Palestinians still stranded on Syrian-Lebanese border

While hundreds of people of an array of nationalities cross the Syrian border every day, some 200 Palestinians have been refused entry. (IRIN)

MASNAA — Some 200 Palestinians are still waiting at the Lebanese-Syrian border crossing at Masnaa for entry authorisation from the Syrian government.

Having fled from some of the worst-hit areas of Lebanon, around Tyre and the southern Bekaa Valley, the stricken families have officially left Lebanese territory but are being refused entry into Syria. They now find themselves stuck in a virtual no-man’s land between the two countries.

Almost all those waiting at Masnaa hold joint Lebanese-Palestinian travel documents, specially issued for the 350,000-400,000 Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon but who enjoy only limited rights and restricted status.

Although the UN estimates that around 1,000 Palestinians have already been allowed into Syria, many at the border have been trapped for more than a week, with a sense of frustration and even desperation becoming increasingly evident.

In a near derelict room attached to the main immigration hall, where the more fortunate wait to have Syrian entry visas stamped in their passports, several Palestinian families have set up makeshift beds, with mats, food supplies and foam mattresses laid out on the concrete floor.

“We’ve been waiting here 10 days, and they’ve given us all the food, water and medicines we need,” says 26-year-old Wissam Nemereh, who worked informally as a painter in Tyre before fleeing the Israeli bombardment. “For that, we thank the Syrians. But we need shelter. They need to let us into the country. They’re allowing in Americans, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese - everyone but us. Now they say we have to wait until the PLO sends a document to Damascus.”

Laurens Jolles, the Acting Representative for UNHCR in Syria, says that the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has made an urgent request to the Syrian government, asking that entry requirements for Palestinians be relaxed on humanitarian grounds.

“We are concerned about the situation and we’re working on it,” Jolles told IRIN. “Overall, though, Syria is coping quite well with the influx of people, mainly thanks to the Syrian Red Crescent and the overwhelming generosity of the Syrian people, who have donated supplies and are housing stranded families.”

In the border zone at Masnaa, a mile-long strip in the mountainous terrain between Lebanon and Syria, the Palestinian Red Crescent has also been assisting its Syrian counterpart in providing relief.

“I’ve been here seven days so far, and each day around 90 to 400 Palestinians arrive at the border,” says Dr Bassel Tameem, who works for the Palestinian Red Crescent in the Yarmouk camp near Damascus. “The number of families actually waiting here depends on how bad things are in Lebanon, and on what’s happening at the border crossing into Syria. Some of them are let in, while others are told that they must wait for the authorities to obtain the necessary paperwork.”

Syrian immigration officials at the border declined to comment on the situation.

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