Syria has asked the United Nations to open its border crossings to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in neighboring Lebanon, an official from the UN’s refugee agency said on Wednesday.
The Syrian government is expected to announce plans to open the crossings as soon as next week, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said.
Syria, a largely Sunni Muslim country with an estimated 30 million people, has been gripped by a war between its army and armed groups since March 2011.
The United Nations has so far resettled 1.7 million people.
But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that it does not know how many Syrians are still waiting for protection in Lebanon and has called for the international community to support them.
A senior UNHCR official said the government has agreed to provide aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but it is unclear how many would be able to enter the country.
The UNHCR did not respond to a request for comment on the plan.
The UN has been urging the Syrian government to allow the refugees to enter Lebanon without conditions and for Lebanese authorities to provide security for the refugees.
The Lebanese government, which has been fighting a bloody civil war since 1975, has struggled to deal with the influx.
Lebanon has about 1.5 million Syrians, about half of whom are internally displaced.
The rest are foreign nationals, many of whom have settled in the southern Lebanon province of Arsal.
Lefebvre, the Syrian official, said there are some 300,000 Syrians in Lebanon with family members who are staying in the country illegally.
But he said the official did not know whether those Syrians would be allowed to enter Syria.
The UNHCR said last week that Syrian refugees were already in Lebanon.
But the agency did not specify the number of Syrians currently living there.
The official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said Syria is considering granting the refugees temporary residency permits, which would allow them to apply for permanent residence in the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese government has also agreed to allow refugees from outside the country to visit relatives and receive medical care in Lebanon under a new agreement signed with the UNHCR.
The government has promised to provide free health care to Syrians in the three years following the deal, which will be reviewed by the Lebanese parliament.