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Lebanon threatens to deport Syrian opposition activist

Syrian opposition activist Sheikh Jumaa Lehib threatened with deportation from Lebanon
3 min read
11 March, 2024
Refugees who return to Syria have faced torture, forced disappearance, arrest and even death at the hands of authorities.
Mariam Ahmad, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, smiles as she looks at her child at her home, on 5 January 2022 in Tripoli, Lebanon. [Getty]

Syrian opposition activist and researcher Sheikh Jumaa Lehib was handed a deportation order on Wednesday, 6 February, from Lebanon to Syria amid a more significant crackdown on Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Lehib is an opposition activist who was arrested in Syria during the country's 2011 revolution and is currently the head researcher with the opposition party Syrian Future Movement.

He was given an order to return to Syria by 6 April by Lebanese General Security when he went to renew his residency, despite his registered status with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Activists and human rights monitors have warned that he and his family could be in danger of reprisal from the Assad regime if they are sent back to Syria. 

Refugees who return to Syria have faced torture, forced disappearance, arrest and even death at the hands of authorities.

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"I am wanted by the political security directorate, and my name is still present on the list of wanted people. I have a wife and five kids; there is a lot of danger to all of us if I am deported," Sheikh Jumaa Lehib told The New Arab.

A Lebanese General Security Directorate spokesperson had not responded to TNA's request for comment by the time of publication.

Syrian activists under threat

Lehib's deportation order comes as Lebanon threatens to send other Syrian activists back to Syria in recent weeks.

"We are seeing several incidences in which Syrian opposition activists or defectors have been reportedly deported or threatened with deportation last month, despite their registration with UNHCR," Ramzi Kaiss, the Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told TNA.

At least two individuals – a Syrian activist and a defector from the Syrian army – have been threatened with deportation over the last month.

"This is creating a ripple effect and causing fear among Syrians in Lebanon," Kaiss explained.

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Deportations have not only been confined to Syrian activists but have targeted Syrian refugees en masse.

Since April 2023, Lebanese authorities have carried out campaigns against Syrian refugees without valid residency documents – which comprise 87 per cent of the 1.8 million Syrian refugees in the country.

On 7 March, Lebanese authorities raided camps in the Bekaa valley and deported at least a dozen Syrians. 

Four inmates in Lebanon's Roumieh prison attempted suicide in early March after they learned that their relatives were deported back to Syria on the first of that month.

Unlawful deportations

Lebanon is obligated under international not to return anyone at risk of being tortured – which civil society organisations have argued is the case with deportations of refugees back to Syria.

Under Lebanese law, deportations can only be authorised by judicial decisions or an exceptional decision by the head of Lebanese general security.

Human rights monitors have said that deportations have been occurring unlawfully without respect for due process.

 "Security services are now doing direct deportations, and these are not in accordance with any international treaties or local laws," Mohamed Sablouh, the executive director of the Cedar Center for Legal Studies, told TNA.

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"The General security directorate does not take into account security threats for refugees who have issues with the Syrian regime," Sablouh said.

He pointed to the case of Yassin al-Ater, a Syrian opposition activist who was handed a deportation order despite his position as an opposition activist and a judicial order barring him from travel.

Sablouh added that he has faced challenges in representing clients, with authorities denying lawyers the ability to meet with their clients even though they are entitled to meet with legal counsel.

He personally has also come under increasing pressure from security services, including intimidation tactics against his personal security.

Rhetoric from officials against the presence of Syrian refugees in the country has increased since the beginning of the 2019 Lebanese financial crisis, worsening in mid-2023.