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Cypriot and Lebanese NGOs urge halting pushbacks to Syria

Cypriot and Lebanese NGOs call for stop to 'chain-refoulement' to Syria
2 min read
11 August, 2023
The letter alleges Cyprus has pushed back refugees to Lebanon, which then deports them to Syria, exposing them to danger.
Cyprus and Lebanon have a bilateral agreement which allows Cyprus to return asylum-seekers that come from Lebanon without processing their asylum claim. [Getty]

Four Lebanese and Cypriot NGOs released a joint letter on Friday, 11 August, calling Cyprus to stop its pushbacks of asylum-seekers back to Lebanon, where they are unlawfully deported back to Syria.

The letter said that Cypriot authorities had forcibly returned at least 109 individuals from Cyprus to Lebanon since July, of which at least 73 "were subsequently deported to Syria and handed over to the Syrian regime."

It also said that on 3 August, 36 passengers were pushed back from Cyprus and then arbitrarily detained by Lebanese General Security, where it is feared that they will be forced back to Syria.

This process, where Cyprus returns asylum-seekers to Lebanon, and then Lebanon deports them to Syria, is called "chain-refoulement."

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The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) said that Syrians returned to Syria face the risk of "arbitrary detention, torture and forced disappearance."

There has been a sharp uptick in Syrians and Lebanese attempting to reach Cyprus and Italy via boat as both countries continue to experience worsening economic conditions starting in late 2019.

CLDH argued that the process of chain-refoulement is against both Cyprus and Lebanon's commitments under international law to not engage in forced returns of asylum-seekers to states where they are in danger.

Lebanon and Cyprus have a bilateral agreement which allows Cyprus to return any individuals who come from Lebanon via irregular migration routes without hearing their requests for asylum.

According to CLDH, the agreement and subsequent forced returns to Lebanon "are illegal and should be stopped, as they contravene the right to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement."

Despite concerns from human rights groups over the continuing pattern of forced returns, Lebanon and Cyprus have publicly pledged to step up their cooperation on border enforcement.

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In a 27 July visit by the Cypriot Minister of Interior to Lebanon, officials agreed to increase "information exchanges" and joint maritime patrols to intercept migrant boats leaving Lebanon or Syria.

Cyprus is currently being sued in the European Court of Human Rights by two Syrian refugees who were pushed back to Lebanon.

They argued that they were subject to inhumane treatment by the Cypriot Coast Guard, denied the right to lodge an asylum claim and put at risk of chain refoulement by Cyprus.

The lawyer representing the two Syrian refugees said that if the court rules in their favour, it could create an important precedent for Europe's border policies as a whole.