Lebanon said Thursday it will ask the UN to stop registering refugees who enter the country from war-torn Syria, as it formalised a decision to all but close its borders to them.
“As far as the issue of restricting the number of (refugee) cases is concerned, the government agreed to stop welcoming displaced people, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the UN refugee agency to stop registering the displaced,” Information Minister Ramzi Jreij said.
Only refugees whose files had been approved by the government would be given refugee status in Lebanon, he told reporters.
The announcement came less than a week after Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas was quoted as saying that Lebanon “no longer officially receives any displaced Syrians”.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) had previously confirmed increased restrictions at the border with Syria.
“Our understanding is that people who are coming to claim refugee status are not being permitted to enter in the way that they were previously,” Ninette Kelley, UNHCR’s representative in Lebanon, said on Saturday.
Not all Syrian refugees enter Lebanon through official crossings, however, with many traversing the porous and difficult-to-patrol frontier.
Lebanon already hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees, an enormous strain for a country with a population of just four million.
The influx has tested overstretched infrastructure, and created fresh tensions.
Politicians have long warned Lebanon cannot continue to shoulder such a disproportionate refugee burden, and calls for the closure of the border with Syria have increased after numerous security incidents.
In August, jihadist groups crossed from Syria into the eastern town of Arsal, sparking clashes with the military that left dozens of people dead.
The retreating jihadists took with them some 30 Lebanese police and troops as hostages, and have since executed three of them.
The UNHCR has regularly urged the international community to provide Lebanon with greater assistance to tackle the influx.
The agency has also called on other countries to open their doors to fleeing Syrians to ease the burden on Lebanon and other neighbouring states.
More than three million Syrians have fled their country since the uprising that began in March 2011, with most taking shelter in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.