Lebanon has announced plans to increase restrictions on Syrians trying to enter the country. The move signals an attempt by Beirut to limit the influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.
Lebanon's General Security agency said on Saturday that the new regulations meant Syrians would have to provide authorities with the purpose and length of their stay from January 5.
Syrians had previously been able to travel freely across the border, but under the new rules they will have to present paperwork similar to that needed by other foreigners applying for visas.
Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said the rules were unprecedented.
"This is the first time in the history of the two countries that Syrians have been required to define the purpose of their visit," he told news agency AFP.
"The goal is to prevent (Syrians) from taking refuge" in Lebanon, and "to more seriously regulate the entry of Syrians," he added.
Under the regulations, Syrians will have to elect a category under which they want to enter the country, including tourism, medical treatment, business or schooling. A tourist visa, for example, requires evidence of a hotel reservation and $1000 (833 euros), as well as a valid passport or ID document.
Flood of refugees
Lebanon has the highest per capital concentration of refugees in the world, and for the past few years has been grappling with a flood of people fleeing Syria's civil war. More than one million Syrians have ended up in Lebanon, making up around 20 percent of the country's population and placing a considerable strain on resources and infrastructure.
"We understand the reasons why governments are introducing these policies… but at the same time we want to ensure that people are not pushed back into situations of danger," said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, refering to Lebanon and Jordan, which he said had also restricted refugees from entering.
Beirut began imposing limitations on the entry of people fleeing the Syrian civil war back in October, and said it would only accept those in need of immediate international protection on a case-by-case basis. According to Redmond, there has been a 50 percent drop in the number of Syrians registering in Lebanon since summer 2014.
"That's an indication that a lot of people aren't getting in here," Redmond said. "But still, people are getting through, and we want to ensure that the most vulnerable do get through."
The Lebanese government has appealed for support from the international community to help it cope with the number of refugees from its larger neighbor.
The Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, has displaced around half the country's population and left more than 200,000 people dead.
nm/pfd (AFP, Reuters, AP)