The monitoring group Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity (SACD) published a new report on the impact of COVID-19 on Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The Syrians who fled to Lebanon from the death and destruction in their homeland, were already facing the repercussions of the Lebanon’s economic crisis, which severely affected their ability to earn a basic income even at the subsistence level.
The collapse of Lebanese pound led to a rise in the prices of basic goods and services, on top of the increases in rent that refugees are paying for accommodation and the lands leased to set up their camps. That’s whyan increasing number of Syrians decided to go back, but with the border closed, some have gotten stuck in the buffer zone between the two countries.
According to the report, in recent weeks, dozens of Syrians have gotten stuck at the Masnaa border crossing. Although the border has been officially closed since mid-March, Lebanese citizens have been allowed to return from Syria and some Syrians crossed in the other direction. The report expresses concerns that deteriorating conditions in Lebanon are pushing Syrians to unsafe returns.
At the beginning of this month, dozens of Syrian families gathered for long days at the Syrian-Lebanese border, desiring to return to Syria because of the bad conditions they are suffering in Lebanon. The Syrian association indicates, adding that refugees seeking to return to Syria had arrived at the border in different groups over the past several weeks.
Haya Atassi, a spokeswoman for SACD, affirmed that the Syrians had passed the last checkpoint marking the end of Lebanese territory and entered into a buffer zone with shared authority between the two countries, which extends for several kilometers before the Syrian border, but they were denied entry at the Syrian border. “They thought they would be allowed to enter into their country, but they were not, so they got stuck in no man’s land, in this area between the Syrian and the Lebanese border,” Atassi affirmed.
From time to time, the Syrian authorities would allow a group to come through and go into quarantine, but it seems to be arbitrary which citizens were allowed to cross or not. While returning Lebanese citizens are told to quarantine at home for two weeks, returning Syrians are required to go into government-run quarantine accommodations.Lebanese General Security confirmed Syrians had gotten stuck at the border crossing without indicate any number.
According to Beirut, the Syriansleft Lebanon via an illegal crossing without passing by General Security, and they are stuck with the Syrian authorities who will not let them in before they do a coronavirus test.At the Lebanese General Security office ahead of the border crossing Thursday, a few groups of Syrians approached with suitcases in hand but were turned back by General Security officers who said they needed a negative COVID-19 test and permission from the Syrian embassy in Beirut in order to cross.
Shortly after being turned away from the official crossing, one group of men could be seen making their way through the barren hills facing the crossing on foot, hauling their suitcases.Atassi said that some refugees who had legal residency in Lebanon had been able to return back to Lebanese territory, while others had managed to cross into Syria, in some cases by paying smugglers or bribing border guards. But several dozen others remain stuck.
Before the coronavirus hit, Lebanese General Security in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had been organizing voluntary return trips for Syrians willing to repatriate every month or two. According to official data of UN agency.in the last trip in February 1,093 Syrians arrived safety back home. UN officials, who interview the returnees before they go, have said that economic issues and the rising cost of living have been among the major reasons cited for going.
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