Lebanon imposes visas on Syrians for first time

Citizens of both countries have for decades been able to travel freely across their shared border

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Lebanon is to impose visa restrictions on Syrians for the first time after being overwhelmed by an influx of more than 1.1 million refugees, according to documents published online.

The new regulations, posted on the website of the General Security agency, come into effect on January 5 and lay out eight new visa categories, including for tourism and medical treatment.

The requirement appeared to be the first time Lebanon has demanded that Syrians apply for visas.

Citizens of both countries have for decades been able to travel freely across their shared border.

The new rule is the latest in a series of measures taken by Lebanon to stem the influx of Syrians fleeing their country's brutal civil war.

In October, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said Lebanon was effectively no longer receiving Syrian refugees, with limited exceptions for "humanitarian reasons".

A security source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, declined to describe the new requirements as visas, but acknowledged they were unprecedented.

"This is the first time these kinds of instructions have been given," he said.

"The goal is to bring the security and economic situation under control and to monitor the presence of Syrians on Lebanese soil."

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said they were still studying the new rules and had no immediate comment.

But aid groups and agencies working with Syrian refugees have long warned that Lebanon, with a population of just four million people, has been overwhelmed by the influx of Syrians.

The document published online lists eight categories, including tourist visas, which require applicants to provide evidence of a hotel reservation and $1,000, as well as a valid passport or ID card.

Other visas are available for business visits, medical treatment and schooling, as well as transit visas for onward travel.

Visas are also available for those who own property in Lebanon or are seeking to enter to apply for visas at foreign embassies in Beirut.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011 and has displaced around half the country's population.

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