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Lebanese FM vows to keep border open for Syrians

Bassil said Lebanon will not resort to closing its border with Syria [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 April, 2017

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Gebran Bassil said his country will not close Syrian border to stop influx of refugees fleeing conflict in the war-torn neighbouring state.
Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil vowed on Monday to keep his country's Syria border open despite already hosting over one million Syrian refugees.

Bassil said Lebanon, which has the highest refugee per capita rate in the world, will not resort to closing its border with Syria as a measure to handle the refugee crisis.  

"I will be the last to think about closing the border," Bassil said, speaking ion Monday at a University of Sydney event in Australia.

"Refugees are innocent people who fled to save their lives," he added, noting that Lebanon remains cautious of "terrorists" trying hiding among refugees crossing the border.

Last week, the country's Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned that his country had reached "breaking point" over pressures caused by refugees in Lebanon.

"This issue has reached a breaking point for us in Lebanon. We want the international community to hear us and understand that Lebanon is facing a crisis," Hariri said.

Lebanon, whose infrastructure was devastated during a 15-year war that ended in 1990, is also struggling with endemic corruption and a public debt that represents 140 percent of its GDP.

Since 2011, the Syrian crisis has seen more 600,000 people killed and 12 million people forced out of their homes in one of largest displacements of people since the Second World War.

In that time, more than 1.1 million Syrians sought refuge in neighbouring Lebanon.

With an open-door policy, the country initially welcomed many with open arms, allowing refugees to enter without a visa and to renew residence cards almost free of charge.

Yet as the crisis in Syria continued to unfold, refugees came to make up almost a fifth of the population.

Under local pressure, in January 2015 the Lebanese government passed rules that required Syrians to renew their residency permits with much stricter conditions. The new law inevitably rendered many illegal.

Citing security concerns, several local municipalities began curfews and crack-downs against Syrian refugees.

Today, an estimated 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon lack legal status, which among other problems limits their ability to work, access education and healthcare, or simply move freely without fear of being apprehended by police.

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