The number of Syrian refugees registering with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon has dropped drastically, the agency’s country representative said Thursday, adding that the decline resulted from restrictive border measures.
“The number of refugees who approach our offices to be registered has decreased in the last few weeks, between 75 and 90 percent in any given day,” Ninette Kelley said during a briefing with reporters at the agency’s Jnah headquarters.
“The main driver of that have been the restrictions being imposed on the border.”
Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas announced last week that Lebanon would no longer accept refugees, but said the borders would remain open to exigent humanitarian cases and others crossing for transit purposes.
Kelley said that despite numerous pronouncements by government ministers that Lebanon would change its policy toward refugees, the agency has yet to receive record of the official Cabinet decision.
“In fact, we have a few versions but we don’t have the official one,” she said. “We’ve also requested to meet with Minister Derbas,” who is traveling, “to work out with him how he sees this unfolding and how we can transition, if that’s the intent, any new refugee, any new registration, over to the government.”
Kelley said government officials had been clear about their policy intention to stabilize the situation in Lebanon. She also announced that in December, the UNHCR will convene a meeting of states able to admit Syrian refugees to encourage increased levels of resettlement “and also other forms of admission that will help to ease the burdens of other countries in the region.”
“There is more that can be done, and this is the message that we need to communicate,” she said.
She reiterated that UNHCR has not received the criteria used by the government to assess exceptions. “We understand that humanitarian exceptions are being made but again we don’t have the criteria,” she said, adding the agency has been in dialogue with the government about what they should entail.
Among those permitted entry were individuals in need of medical attention and single-women headed households, but Kelley was reluctant to use anecdotal cases to draw generalized conclusions. “There has been no clear pattern that would allow UNHCR to speak with any authority as to what the criteria are.”
She added that despite the strict entry measures, the UNHCR had not observed a stack up of Syrians at the border, “but we have observed a diminishing number of refugees crossing the border.”