Syria's Assad regime is trying to stop women and children fleeing the country, refugees and activists have told The Daily Telegraph.
[18 April 2012] - The attempt, which appears well organised and is assumed to be intended to prevent men defecting or joining the opposition, has led to a build-up of thousands of refugees inside the borders with Lebanon and particularly Jordan.
"Most families that fled to Lebanon in recent weeks escaped Syria using smuggling routes," said Burhan Abu Saleh, a spokesman for a volunteer Syrian refugee group.
"Some have relatives who are activists, and so would risk arrest at the official border, but many went and were turned back.
"Every day it is becoming more difficult."
Rana, a refugee in Lebanon who would not give her full name, said she had been forced to pay a bribe to cross the border. "Security forces were attacking my neighbourhood in Aleppo," she said. "I fled with nothing but I had to pay $40 dollars to be allowed to cross."
A number of opposition activists abroad say their families inside the country have been taken away or beaten up in retaliation, while defecting members of the regime's army have described waiting until they were able to accompany their families abroad before crossing over, earlier in the uprising.
But tens of thousands of refugees are continuing to try to leave, despite the current supposed ceasefire and peace plan put forward by the UN envoy, Kofi Annan.
Yesterday, a visit by members of the UN monitoring mission withdrew from Arbeen, a Damascus suburb, after troops started shooting at a crowd of protesters, activists said.
The Syrian authorities yesterday said they were drawing up a "protocol" with the monitors to allow the arrival of the main party, supposed to consist of 250 peacekeepers.
The flow of refugees to Jordan and Lebanon, which have been trying to remain neutral in the conflict, is particularly worrying for the regime.
Mr Abu Saleh said it had become "common" for families to be refused exit at the Masnaa border crossing between Beirut and Damascus. An activist in Jordan said there were now 4,000 families, mostly from Homs, near the border at Jaber, many sleeping in the open and some with families.
The authorities are only allowing those over 60 to cross, unless bribes are paid, and no children, the activist said, adding that the regime was keen to stop numbers of refugees inside Jordan, which already stand at 100,000, reaching 150,000. "That would be a major embarrassment for Bashar," he said.
Mousab Azzawi, of the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights, said the regime had reactivated old laws under which a woman leaving the country without her husband needed a letter of approval from him, certified by a judge and the security forces.
"In past years this has not been enforced and woman and children could cross freely," he said. "Now they use it - it is a lengthy process that amounts to a ban," said Azzawi.
Aside from bureaucratic constraints, activists reported seemingly arbitrary excuses being given by border officials. Mr Abu Salah's aunt and uncle were told they could not leave the country with their child as he had to attend school in Syria.
"Officials said they should get papers from the education ministry to leave the country," he said. "But they are from Homs, there are no schools open there anymore.
"My brother's fiancee wanted to come to Lebanon with her family. They were turned back. 'Go away and shut up', the border guards told them."
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Last updated 20/04/2012 18:03:44