The Lebanese authorities must immediately stop deporting refugees back to Syria, Amnesty International said today, amid fears that Syrian refugees are at risk of torture or persecution at the hands of the Syrian government upon return.
Last week, the Lebanese Armed Forces raided houses occupied by Syrian families in different locations across the country, including Bourj Hammoud in Beirut, and deported to Syria dozens of refugees who had entered the country irregularly or held expired residency cards.
Mohammed, the brother of one of the deported refugees, told Amnesty that he managed to contact his brother who informed him that the Lebanese army drove the refugees directly to the border and handed them over to the Syrian army. He said that many are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Mohammed told Amnesty that his brother is wanted by the Syrian government for evading military service. The Lebanese army drove him, his wife and his daughter directly from their house in Bourj Hammoud to the Syrian border. Despite being registered with the UNHCR, Mohammed said his brother was not offered the right to challenge his deportation order. Mohammed also said the UNHCR was informed.
More than 100 refugees held on the Syrian side of the border since Wednesday will learn their fate tomorrow, according to Mohammed’s brother. Amnesty and other rights groups have documented how refugees who were returned to Syria have faced grave human rights violations at the hands of the Syrian authorities.
Mohammed said that the recent wave of deportations has caused him and his family to live in fear and avoid leaving the house.
Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:
“No refugee should be sent back to a place where their life will be at risk.
“It is extremely alarming to see the army deciding the fate of refugees, without respecting due process or allowing those facing deportation to challenge their removal in court or seek protection.
“Instead of living in fear after escaping atrocities in Syria, refugees living in Lebanon should be protected from arbitrary raids and unlawful deportations.
“While there is no excuse for Lebanon violating its legal obligations, the international community should step up its assistance, and particularly its resettlement and alternative pathways programmes, to help Lebanon cope with the presence of an estimated 1.5 million refugees in the country.”
In 2019, Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council, the body responsible for implementing Lebanon’s national defence strategy, instructed security agencies to deport Syrians entering Lebanon through illegal border crossings. In a December 2020 letter to Amnesty, the Directorate of General Security confirmed that the authorities had deported 6,002 Syrians since May 2019, including 863 in 2020. Deportations were partially halted in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a 2021 report, Amnesty documented a catalogue of horrific violations committed by Syrian intelligence officers against 66 Syrian refugee returnees, including 13 children. The majority of the children had returned from Lebanon, including two who were deported. Syrian intelligence officers subjected women, children and men to unlawful or arbitrary detention, torture – including rape and sexual violence – and enforced disappearance. These violations were a direct consequence of their perceived affiliation with Syria’s political opposition, simply because of their refugee status.