Sorry, we're full — Lebanon ends its open border policy for Syrian refugees

The World
A Syrian girl covers herself with a blanket at a refugee settlement in Bar Elias in Lebanon.

A Syrian girl covers herself with a blanket at a refugee settlement in Bar Elias in Lebanon.

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

Lebanon, the country that has taken in more refugees from Syria’s civil war than any other, has finally said enough. For the first time in its history, Lebanon is requiring Syrians to obtain visas at the border between the two countries, seeking to clamp down the massive flow of refugees into tiny Lebanon.

Last year, the UN warned that refugees would make up more than a third of Lebanon's population if their numbers passed 1.5 million. According to the Lebanese government, that milestone has now been passed.

The BBC’s Carine Tobey saw a strangely empty scene at a once-bustling border crossing points. “It was very quiet. There was one car or two every five minutes, and that’s very unusual. Usually the road leading to this crossing is very crowded with refugees."

Concern about the growing refugee population is partly due to Lebanon’s own limited resources. The influx has taxed the economy and infrastructure of the politically fragile nation. "There is a sense of relief [at the new policy]” Tobey says. The message she hears on the street is "We cannot take any more."

Although the Syrian territory adjacent to Lebanon is relatively stable, concern there is rising that the new policy could divide families and close an escape route. "Some people speak about panic in Syria over whether this is only the beginning,'" Tobey explained. “Will there be a suffocation in Syria?"

And some Syrians say the newly closed border is a sign of global indifference, she says: "[Refugees know that] aid is dwindling, assistance is disappearing — there is less and less international interest in their case."

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