Lebanon began limiting the flow of Syrians entering the country yesterday, placing unprecedented restrictions on their entry, as it struggles to cope with a flood of asylum seekers fleeing civil war.
The response was yet another ripple effect of Syria’s war that has displaced nearly half its pre-war population, sending over three million people fleeing into neighbouring countries — primarily Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.
Lebanon is particularly vulnerable; for a tiny country of 4.5m, the flood of Syrian refugees has placed a tremendous strain on its economy, resources, infrastructure and delicate sectarian balance.
Lebanese officials say they simply can’t absorb more refugees. They estimate there are about 1.5m Syrians in Lebanon, about one-quarter of the total population. Some 1.1m of those are registered with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
“We have enough. There’s no capacity anymore to host more displaced,” said interior minister Nohad Machnouk.
The changes that went into effect yesterday establish new categories of entry visas for Syrians — including tourism, business, education and medical care — and sharply limit the period of time they may stay in Lebanon.
But the restrictions, announced last week on Lebanon’s General Security Directorate website, seemingly make no provisions for asylum seekers.
For decades, Syrians were freely given six-month visas and many crossed the border without any paperwork.
But after the outbreak of Syria’s uprising four years ago collapsed into an entrenched civil war, hundreds of thousands poured into Lebanon, overwhelming the country’s water and power supplies, pushing up rents and depressing the economy.
Tent cities have sprouted in rural areas — now muddy, miserable and freezing slums in winter. Public opinion has sharply turned against the Syrians, who many see as threatening the sovereignty of Lebanon — long-dominated by its larger neighbour.
Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters have advanced in the northern Syrian town of Kobani after heavy fighting with Islamic State militants, local officials and activists say.
Kobani official Idriss Nassan and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian Kurdish forces had captured the so-called security quarter, which houses the police headquarters and other government buildings.
The IS group stormed the security quarter on October 10 but later lost parts of it in a Kurdish counter-offensive.
Kurdish fighters have been slowly advancing in Kobani with the support of Iraqi peshmerga forces. The US-led coalition has also played a key role, carrying out waves of air strikes against IS positions in and around the town.
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