Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
Syrian refugees walk along a makeshift settlement in Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley January 5, 2015. Lebanon enforced new immigration controls at the Syrian border on Monday in a move to gain control of the steady stream of refugees from its much larger neighbor.

Is Lebanon closing its door to Syrian refugees?

Lebanon says the influx of refugees from Syria's civil war has boosted its population by a third and strained resources. On Monday, it imposed new visa rules for Syrians.

Lebanon, struggling to cope with a massive influx of Syrian refugees, began implementing new entry measures along its border Monday in a bid to restrict the flow of people escaping Syria’s grueling civil war.

The influx is believed to have increased Lebanon’s population by as much as a third, straining its resources, while international efforts to assist countries hosting Syrian refugees have fallen far short of their stated fundraising goals. Aid agencies, however, are voicing concern that the unprecedented border restrictions will prevent endangered Syrians from escaping the war-torn country.

“Governments are perfectly entitled to manage their borders – that’s their responsibility and their right – and we just want to make sure that refugees in urgent need of assistance can still get entry on a case-by-case basis,” says Ron Redmond, spokesman for the United Nations Higher Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).

Traditionally, Syrians only required an identification card to enter Lebanon. But as of Monday, all Syrian visitors will have to apply for one of six different visas – tourist, business, student, transit, short stay, or medical. Visa applicants will have to provide a valid passport and accompanying material proving that they have valid reasons for entering Lebanon, such as sponsorship by employers, hotel reservations, or admission letters from schools and universities.

Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million, hosts just under 1.1 million refugees who have registered with the UNHCR, although the true figure is believed to be closer to 1.5 million. That would mean Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee population in the world, the equivalent of the United States absorbing almost the entire population of Mexico in under four years.

The refugees, who are scattered across the country, have placed a huge burden on Lebanon’s already frail infrastructure, and tensions between the refugees and host communities are on the rise. Many Lebanese fear the Syrians will become a permanent presence like the Palestinians who fled their homes in 1948 during the creation of Israel and have stayed, along with their descendants, in Lebanon ever since.

Furthermore, the vast majority of the refugees are Sunnis, placing additional strains on Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance.

In October, the Lebanese government tightened restrictions on allowing refugees into the country, limiting them to humanitarian cases only.

“There are 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon, among them 1,070,000 are registered as refugees,” said Nohad Mashnouq, the Lebanese Interior minister, in a press conference Monday. “That is enough, and Lebanon has no ability to receive more refugees.”

The Lebanese government has insisted that the new measures will not affect those Syrians who classify as urgent humanitarian cases, nor will existing refugees be deported from the country. However, the list of requirements for visas and the fact that customs officials cannot make on-the-spot decisions as to who can be classified as a humanitarian exception suggests that the new measures are intended to obstruct entry as much as possible.

Still, Beirut says it has little choice but to take matters into its own hands given the sluggish international response to assisting host nations, such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. An international donor conference a year ago in Kuwait raised $2.4 billion to help host countries, far short of the target figure of $6.5 billion.

“We are urging again the international community to support Lebanon, support Jordan, support these host countries, because they are absolutely overwhelmed and we recognize that,” says Mr. Redmond of the UNHCR. “If they don’t get even more assistance from the international community, this is going to be an even bigger problem.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Is Lebanon closing its door to Syrian refugees?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today