What is behind the delayed yet stringent measures to limit refugee influx?

Wed, 02/11/2015

Four years after the outbreak of the war in Syria, and the resulting inflow of Syrian refugees who recorded a total of 1,154,593 persons in January 22, 2015, according to UNHCR figures, the Lebanese government finally decided to take action to curb the flow. The decision of the government included a set of policies to become effective on December 31, 2014, in order to regulate their entry and presence in the country. These new measures raised wide concerns and objections from several political sectors.
To put things in perspective, we need to recall that officials, who are alarmed today by the refugee crisis, were the first to demand the unrestricted entry of refugees at the start of the war, and this for humanitarian reasons. Today, these same politicians have opted to impose strict control, this time under the pretext of the dire economic situation and minimal international aids.
By virtue of this new decision, Syrians entering Lebanon have been divided into six categories. They were asked to fill in special forms stating a valid purpose to be in Lebanon, such as tourism, temporary stay, study or transit through airport or sea port or for medical reasons or appointment at a foreign embassy. The newly-enforced measures confined the entry of Syrians to above regulations, unless they had a Lebanese sponsor who is legally responsible for their entry, residence, accommodation, work or any other activity.
The release of the said policies, dubbed by many as a form of “visa”, failed to get full domestic support. Allies of the Syrian government, namely Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, expressed their rejection of these measures, the latter stating that a delegation including ministers from Hezbollah and Amal conveyed this position to Prime Minister Tamam Salam.
These belated measures are considered by many as red herring as the real motives behind them remain not quite clear, especially that they come after a noticeable decline in the number of refugees entering the country, a decline according to Lebanese security sources and international organizations which has reached 27% between January and September, 2014.
Some observers have linked this decline to the growing popular resentment, and also to the drastic cutback in the size of direct financial assistance from international relief organizations. Regarding the limited financial capacities of the Lebanese government, observers believe that this was always so, while acknowledging that Lebanon has only received 20% of the total foreign aid that it requested. Some of these observers question whether or not the real underlying reasons are actually the stated ones They go on to say that the changing local and regional climate, and new domestic political considerations may explain the recent shift in positions.
Finally, and notwithstanding: 1) the impact of such a move, should the Syrian government decide to reciprocate, thus severely affecting the movement of goods and people; 2) the negative humanitarian fall backs of that decision, it is noticeable that the government seems to have deliberately overlooked the issue of the large Syrian workforce presently within the country. This maybe so because many economic players stand to benefit from this presence, as they reap large profits from hiring the low-paid Syrian workers, not to mention the role of this workforce in boosting domestic consumption.