The United States has expressed concern over a decision for Syrians to obtain visas that sharply limit the time they can stay in Lebanon but Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas reiterated that no Syrian would be deported from the country under the new rules.
“We are very concerned new visa requirements for Syrians entering Lebanon will create additional challenges for refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday.
She said the US encourages the Lebanese government “to coordinate closely with the UN in the development of criteria to ensure those feeling violence and persecution are able to cross into Lebanon.”
“We will continue to strongly encourage the governments of the region to provide refuge and – refuge for asylum seekers in accordance with international principles,” she told reporters.
Psaki also stressed that Washington recognizes the “tremendous challenge” for the economies and public services of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, which are hosting more than three million displaced Syrians.
But Derbas told al-Liwaa daily published on Tuesday that the decision to impose the unprecedented visa restrictions on Syrians is not new.
“It comes as part of decisions taken by the government to limit the burden of Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” he said.
“This does not mean that Syrians would be deported from Lebanon. The new aspect of the decision is that it came into force starting today (Monday),” Derbas said.
He reiterated that the new procedures would allow the Lebanese authorities to differentiate between a refugee and a visitor.
Lebanese border officials began informally restricting the entry of Syrians in October, causing a 50 percent drop in people seeking to register with the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR.
"We are looking at these new procedures with some interest, because those procedures don't make mention of the agreement of the government to continue to allow the most vulnerable cases to come through," said UNHCR's regional spokesman Ron Redmond.
Even after last year's informal limitations were introduced, he said the Lebanese government was still allowing in Syrians they deemed "urgent cases" — single women fleeing with their children, those needing urgent medical care, and children separated from their families.
"We didn't see any reference to that in these new regulations," Redmond said. "We want to get some kind of official documentation and description of how that's going to work."
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