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Amnesty International: Lebanon barring Palestinian refugees

A human rights group has accused Lebanese authorities of preventing Palestinian refugees from Syria, including pregnant women and children, from entering their country
Syrian refugees crossed Lebanon's eastern border to the enter the village of Tufeil in April (AFP)

Amnesty International (AI) has accused the Lebanese authorities of breaching international law by barring Palestinians fleeing the conflict in Syria, including pregnant women and children, from entering the country.

The human rights organization on Tuesday cited the case of a mother and new-born baby being prevented from joining their family in Lebanon as an example of refugees being barred under tightened controls at the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights at AI, said: “The Lebanese authorities have displayed a chilling disregard for the rights of refugees who are fleeing a bloody conflict."

“Absolutely no-one seeking refuge from a conflict should be denied entry; by doing so Lebanon is flouting its obligations under international law.”

Since May, Palestinians fleeing Syria have had to either pass through Lebanon or meet temporary residence conditions under the new rules, said Amnesty, despite the fact such stipulations did not apply to Syrians. 

Amnesty claimed it had evidence of efforts to deny Palestinian refugees from Syria entry into Lebanon altogether, regardless of whether they meet the new entry conditions.

The human-rights body said it had seen a document, apparently from the Lebanese security services, instructing airlines not to transport Palestinian refugees from Syria to Lebanon, regardless of their travel documents.

Elsayed-Ali added: “The Lebanese authorities must immediately end the blatantly discriminatory policies towards Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria."

"While the influx of refugees has placed an immense strain on Lebanon’s resources, there is no excuse for abandoning Palestinian refugees who are seeking safety in Lebanon.”

Palestinian refugees from Syria have also faced restrictions on entering other countries neighboring Syria, Amnesty said, including Turkey. 

A Turkish refugee official, who declined to be named, denied Palestinians were treated differently to Syrian nationals.

A spokeswoman for the Lebanese embassy in Ankara declined to comment on Amnesty's allegations.

Lebanon all but bars Palestinians fleeing Syria

Back in May, it was announced that under new measures, Palestinians leaving Syria would not be given visas at the Lebanese border or have visas renewed.

Lebanon placed prohibitive restrictions on the entry of Palestinians fleeing Syria, making it almost impossible for them to take refuge in the small Mediterranean country.

New measures mean Palestinians fleeing Syria will not be given visas at the border, while those who are already in the country will not have their visas renewed.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page back in early May, Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnuq said no visas would be issued at the main Masnaa border crossing.

Palestinians living in Syria who wish to enter Lebanon must first request a visa at the Lebanese embassy in Damascus. The request will be processed by the Lebanese General Security agency.

Only those with a residence permit in Lebanon will be admitted, the minister said.

Mashnuq also announced that the two-week visas previously granted to Palestinians fleeing Syria would no longer be renewable.

Mashnuq said Palestinians from Syria have the right to a 24-hour transit visa, allowing people to travel to or from Beirut International Airport, if they have a valid ticket and visa or residence permit in another country.

Lebanon has not signed the international refugee convention, but had generally kept its border open to people fleeing the conflict in Syria despite the scale of the influx.

Lebanon hosts more refugees from Syria than any other country, with 52,000 Palestinians among a total of more than a million. It now has the highest refugee population per capita in the world.

Human rights activists say Palestinians in Syria, who once numbered 500,000, have been targeted by both sides in the conflict, making them one of the country's most vulnerable groups.

Syria's most populous Palestinian district, Yarmuk in south Damascus, has been under blockade by the army since last year and trapped civilians have received only very limited supplies of food and medicines.

Turkey and Jordan, which also host large numbers of refugees from Syria, have barred entry to Palestinians.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness appealed to Lebanese authorities not to block those in need of sanctuary.

"It is essential that civilians fleeing Syria and seeking safety and protection are granted access and not returned in circumstances where their lives would be at risk."

Syria has been gripped by near-constant fighting since the Assad regime launched a violent crackdown in response to anti-government protests.

The United Nations stopped counting deaths in July 2013, when the figure stood at 100,000.