Lebanon tries to stop flow of Syrian refugees

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BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon has begun efforts to stop the flow of Syrian refugees into the tiny country, already host to 1 million people who fled the 3-year-old conflict, a Cabinet minister said Monday.

Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas told reporters that Lebanon will not accept Syrians as refugees if they come from safe areas or regions far from the Lebanese border. Derbas, who spoke after a meeting of the ministerial committee in charge of refugee affairs, said they have started efforts to set up refugee camps inside Syria or in the no man's land between the two countries.

Activists say more than 160,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's rule that deteriorated into civil war. The fighting has uprooted 9 million people from their homes, with over 6 million Syrians seeking shelter in safer parts of the country and at least 2.7 million fleeing to neighboring countries.

Lebanon, home to 4.5 million people, is struggling to cope with the massive influx as many refugees desperately need housing, education and medical care. On Saturday, Lebanon announced that Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations should not to return home as of June 1, warning they will lose their status in this country.

"As of this moment, all concerned sides, especially security authorities at the border, will be informed not to accept any person as a refugee if that person is coming from areas that are far or that are not witnessing fighting," Derbas said.

He added that there are currently 1,200 "random camps" in Lebanon with no medical or security observation.

"They are living under inhuman conditions and therefore we began thinking that there are safe areas inside Syria," he said.

The announcement comes ahead of Syria's presidential election Tuesday, a vote Assad is widely expected to win to secure a third seven-year term.

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