Lebanese security forces ‘cuts internet to Syrian refugees’: rights group
Lebanese security forces have reportedly deprived Syrian refugees of access to the internet by confiscating phones and routers, a human rights organisation said on Tuesday.
In a report published on its website, the SMEX organisation, which specialises in digital rights in Lebanon and the Arab World, said Lebanese security forces stormed camps in Lebanon's Bekaa valley between 10 and 14 October, seizing televisions, radios, and satellite dishes, as well as mobile phones and routers.
"I have a small, old television set. I have to hide it all the time in case they take it," Abu Abdu, a refugee living in a camp in the western Bekaa area told SMEX.
"They came and took and smashed up everything," he said.
SMEX said that this was an attempt to cut off Syrian refugees from communication with the outside world but did not know why Lebanese authorities had taken this action.
Lebanese security forces confiscated radios, TVs, cellphones, wifi routers and satellite dishes from #SyrianRefugees in several #WestBekaa areas, according to an investigation by digital rights organization SMEX, published on Tuesday.@SMEX— Megaphone (@megaphone_news) October 26, 2022
The news came as Lebanon deported dozens of Syrian refugees to Syria as the first part of a "repatriation" plan. Rights groups have condemned the move, pointing out that refugees forced to return to Syria could face arrest, detention, and torture at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
SMEX said it had received a recording of a man warning refugees "in a threatening voice" that possession of internet connection equipment was prohibited and saying this "was an order from Lebanese intelligence".
The human rights group added that a source in the Lebanese security forces denied that any equipment was confiscated from refugees.
A Syrian media activist living as a refugee in Lebanon, who preferred to remain anonymous, told SMEX that the confiscations had been ongoing for the past four months in the Western Bekaa, Zahleh, and Barr Elias areas.
He said there were 13 reported incidents.
"The security forces confiscated and destroyed anything which could be a means of communication with the world outside the camp. They also destroyed solar panels and violently beat refugees," he said.
There are around 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UNHCR, although the Lebanese government gives a much higher estimate of 2 million refugees living in the country.
They have suffered increasing discrimination and racism, including violent attacks, with some politicians and public figures blaming them for Lebanon's continued economic crisis.