Syrians flock to Lebanon border to vote despite expelling warnings

Syrians flock to Lebanon border to vote despite expelling warnings
Tue Jun 3, 2014 16:19:41

Despite warning by Lebanese government to revoke status of registered Syrian refugees, hundreds of them risked returning to their war-torn country by crossing the border and voting in their country’s presidential election.

Polls opened in Syria amid very tight security Tuesday for the country's presidential election, a vote that President Bashar Assad is widely expected to win.

Fteim Talaa, 25, said she came to Lebanon 20 days ago from the Ghouta in rural Damascus.

“I'm going [to Syria] to check out the situation. If Ghouta is OK, I will stay,” Talaa said.

Talaa, whose husband has been missing for a year, said she would vote for Assad "so that Syria would go back to the way it was."

“We were living in security before the war and all the destruction came from the Free Syrian Army," she said.

The Masnaa border crossing appeared to run smoothly as members of Lebanon’s Security General checked passports and organized entry and return, issuing special 48-hour transit permits. By early afternoon, General Security sources estimated that 6,600 Syrian voters had crossed into Syria.

The scene stood in stark contrast to the chaos that reigned at the Syrian Embassy in Yarze last week, when tens of thousands showed up to vote, blocking the street for hours.

On May 28, Syrian citizens living abroad went to the polls at the Syrian embassies in a number of countries including Iran, Russia, Yemen, China, Lebanon, Malaysia, Venezuela, Jordan, Sudan, Oman, the Czech Republic, Belarus and India.

Shortly after the first round of voting, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said security concerns prompted the Lebanese government to amend its policy for Syrians. He denied it was any sort of political retaliation for the largely pro-Assad demonstrations that took place at the embassy.

The turnout at the border Tuesday could have been affected by the change in Lebanon's refugee policy, which took effect Sunday. It is unclear what effect Lebanon revoking refugee status would have, since Lebanon is not a signatory to the international refugee convention and does not actually recognize refugee status. Almost none of the Syrian nationals who spoke to The Daily Star were registered refugees.

Ibrahim Ramadan, a 51-year-old Syrian from Aleppo, said he had been in Lebanon for one month looking for work.

“I’m voting for the doctor [President Bashar Assad] because he’s the appropriate choice,” Ramadan told The Daily Star. “He has worked a lot for the country and had created job opportunities [before the war]."

A young Syrian man who wished to remain anonymous said he was voting for Hassan al-Nouri, one of two candidates running against Assad.

“Maybe someone new would be good for the country,” said the young man, who lives in the Damascus neighborhood of Al-Midan and travels often between Lebanon and Syria.

SHI/SHI

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