BEIRUT — Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi on Thursday issued a series of circulars addressed to the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the Beirut Governorate, calling for a crackdown on Syrian nationals in Lebanon.
The presence of Syrian nationals in Lebanon, some of whom have refugee status, occupies a large part of the local public debate. While the authorities and a large part of the political class are calling for their repatriation, many associations and the UN believe that a safe return is impossible given Syria's current political state.
Theft, gunfire, drug trafficking
In a first circular addressed to the ISF, Mawlawi called for "stopping motorcycles driven by Syrians who don't have a residence permit," and reported an "increase in motorcycle traffic by Syrian drivers, some of whom use them to steal, fire shots and traffic drugs." He offered no evidence to support this claim.
The minister also asked the police to launch a "crackdown" on mopeds and motorcycles, particularly in Beirut and the surrounding area, "from the Damour River to Nahr al-Kalb," and to arrest Syrians on motorcycles who do not have a Lebanese residence permit.
In a second circular, Mawlawi urged the mohafez (governors), presidents of municipalities, and mokhtars to enforce a "categorical ban on accepting all donations, conditional or not, from wherever they come, as regards anything related to displaced Syrians and which may justify staying in Lebanon, or not being able to be repatriated safely to their country."
A third circular, titled "Combating begging in the streets of the capital," specifically applies to Beirut.
"In view of the increase in the phenomenon of begging on the streets of the capital, especially by non-Lebanese children, and knowing that this phenomenon is a danger that threatens the city ... [the municipal police are asked] to intensify their patrols" in consultation with the ISF to "put an end" to this phenomenon.
At a press conference the previous day, Mawlawi made a baseless claim that 30 percent of crimes in Lebanon are committed by Syrian nationals— a figure disputed by several organizations, including Human Rights Watch.
Lebanon hosts over 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. Around 800,000 of these refugees are registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but the Lebanese government asked the UNHCR not to register any more Syrian refugees in 2015.
Asked if UNHCR had concerns about Mawlawi's decisions, a spokesperson for the agency sent L'Orient Today a written statement saying the agency works "very closely with the government of Lebanon and the international community on all its programs in Lebanon, benefiting both Lebanese and refugees."
UNHCR "works with the government on solutions for refugees, including the resettlement of refugees from Lebanon to third countries as well as joint measures to address the difficult humanitarian situation that Lebanese and refugees are experiencing," the statement added.