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Lebanon implements controversial new rule requiring visas for Syrian refugees

Under the new visa rule, which went into effect Monday, Syrians are required to state their purpose in visiting Lebanon and, if granted approval, a visa will be issued for a certain time period.

By JC Finley
Syrian civilians flee in a vehicle at Houla near Homs in 2012 after government forces shelled a number of areas in northern Syria targeting rebel strongholds. UPI File Photo
Syrian civilians flee in a vehicle at Houla near Homs in 2012 after government forces shelled a number of areas in northern Syria targeting rebel strongholds. UPI File Photo | License Photo

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Lebanon has instituted a controversial new rule that requires Syrian refugees to obtain a visa prior to entering the country.

Host to more than 1 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon's generosity has come at a price and placed what the United Nations acknowledged is a "massive" strain on the country's infrastructure.

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To date, only 46 percent of the aid pledged by the international community to Lebanon has been received.

"Our hospitality and the welcoming nature of our people have become overstretched and overstrained," Prime Minister Tammam Salam told the European Parliament in December.

Under the new visa rule, which went into effect Monday, Syrians are required to state their purpose in visiting Lebanon and, if granted approval, a visa will be issued for a certain time period.

"The government says that it will allow those extreme humanitarian cases access but it is not covered in these announcements that have come out in the last few days," Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon, told the BBC.

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Redmond said the U.N. is hoping "something official" is released by Beirut that ensures the protection of the most vulnerable refugees. "The government says that will be forthcoming so we are just waiting for that -- hoping we get it soon."

Lebanon, along with with Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, are host to a total of 3.2 million Syrian refugees.

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