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World

Lebanon Imposes Restrictions On Syrian Refugees

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Lebanon says it's had enough of the unrestricted flow of refugees from Syria. That tiny country on the Mediterranean has taken in more than a million refugees from its war-torn neighbor. It wasn't hard to get there. The Lebanese border is a short drive from Damascus, and no visa was required. Now the Lebanese government has imposed new rules. Let's go now to Ron Redmond. He's a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He's based in Beirut. Welcome to the program, sir.

RON REDMOND: Thank you.

INSKEEP: What exactly is Lebanon now requiring of people fleeing the war?

REDMOND: The regulations that they've so far announced call for Syrians fleeing their country to provide documentation showing that they're, for example, students that have a university place here or they've got a business here. In other words, they've got to have documentation showing a reason for coming here and only in a few classifications. We're worried that these requirements make no mention whatsoever of people seeking asylum, and that's what we're trying to get clarification on.

INSKEEP: And so you now have to get a visa stamp from a Lebanese border guard in order to get into the country, and it's going to be hard for people to get. That's what you're saying?

REDMOND: Yes. They arrive at the border, and they've got to be able to show documentation that they fit into one of these categories. It doesn't provide any information about what sort of requirement people need if they want to claim asylum. There are still many, many Syrians trying to get out and who are in need of protection.

INSKEEP: Do you have a sense that this is going to take a refugee flow that has, as we said, added up to something like a million people and crank it down to something closer to zero?

REDMOND: Well, it's certainly going to reduce it. We've already seen a series of measures since last October that have already had the effect of reducing the number of people coming to UNHCR to be registered by more than 50 percent. So there has already been a sizeable reduction from previous measures.

INSKEEP: I do wonder, can you blame the Lebanese?

REDMOND: No, you cannot blame the Lebanese. We are concerned about what happened in Lebanon and been voicing our opinion for months that the international community has got to provide more support to Lebanon and its neighbor, Jordan, which is facing the same problem. They are totally overwhelmed. I mean, you imagine what it would be like if one-quarter of the U.S. population were refugees? It's put an enormous strain on the infrastructure, education, health care, sewer, water, sanitation. Everything is being overstretched. They need a lot more help than they've been getting because Lebanon simply is buckling under the pressure of 1.1 million refugees.

INSKEEP: And you said a quarter of the population. We're talking about a country with a population of about 4 million with, as you said, more than 1 million refugees now. Where, generally speaking, are the refugees? Are they in camps or just among the population?

REDMOND: Well, that's another difficulty here. They are not in camps. Lebanon was opposed, from the beginning, to establishing camps. So right now you've got 1.1 million people scattered across some 1,700 different localities all over Lebanon. They're placing huge pressures not only on the national government, but also on small towns. They're really causing a lot of problems.

INSKEEP: Is there any place else for refugees to go?

REDMOND: In this region, the restrictions are getting tighter and tighter. Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon - it's extremely difficult and getting worse. If they aren't able to get into these surrounding countries, they're going to go elsewhere. And we're already seeing happening with Syrians going across the Mediterranean and including in the two ships last week that were rescued at sea.

INSKEEP: That's Ron Redmond. He's with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, speaking from Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.