Seven rights groups call on Lebanon to stop deportations of Syrian refugees

Seven rights groups call on Lebanon to stop deportations of Syrian refugees
A joint statement issued by rights organisations called on Lebanon to stop summary deportations of Syrian and on the EU to ensure funding is not used in abuses.
3 min read
17 May, 2024
Rights monitors have warned that Syria is still not yet safe for returns of refugees, pointing to abuses by security forces, including torture and death. [Getty]

Seven human rights organisations on Thursday called on Lebanon to halt forced deportations of Syrian refugees and repeal new legal restrictions amid a wave of xenophobia and forced returns.

The joint statement, signed by Amnesty International and others, also called on donor countries to ensure that Lebanon does not place Syrians in danger or that assistance is not used to contribute to abusive deportations.

About 1.5 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon, the highest per capita number of refugees of any country in the world. The Lebanese government has increasingly called on Syrian refugees to go back to Syria since its economic crisis in 2019, despite rights groups saying Syria is not yet safe for returns.

On 2 May, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a US$1 billion aid package to Lebanon in an attempt to reduce refugee arrivals to the EU. Around 20 per cent of the package will go the Lebanese army and border management.

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The Lebanese army has been the primary security body carrying out summary deportations of Syrians.

"Rather than providing a de facto green light to summary deportations of Syrian refugees, the US, EU and other donor countries should make clear that violations of the non-refoulment principle will have concrete consequences for their bilateral relations with Lebanon," the joint statement read.

Since 2020, various EU states have provided funding, equipment and training for Lebanon's border management bodies, both maritime and land. Assistance has included vehicles, integrated maritime radar systems, electricity support for land border observation towers and spotlights meant to highlight migrants entering the country via Syria.

Since the aid package was announced, the Lebanese General Security Directorate (GSD) has imposed new restrictions on Syrians, which rights groups said would push more refugees to leave the country.

The new measures include suspending and renewing residency permits granted by personal guarantees and housing contracts, closing all illegal shops managed or invested in by Syrians, and taking action against anyone employing Syrians without residency.

GSD also requested that Syrians who have entered the country illegally go to border departments to regularise their status and return to Syria.

Several Syrian refugees whose residency has lapsed told The New Arab that the GSD delayed or did not allow them to renew their residency without giving any reason for the denial.

Since early April, the Lebanese army has raided Syrian refugee camps across the country, disbanding and deporting those Syrians without residency papers.

Under Lebanese law, it is illegal to deport individuals in the country without a special judicial order.

At least 83 per cent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not have access to legal residency, putting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees at immediate risk of forced return to Syria.

Rights groups have consistently documented abuses inflicted by regime security services on Syrian refugees who return, including arrest, torture and even death.

Lebanon's parliament on Wednesday issued a nine-point statement which created a ministerial committee to draft a plan to return Syrians to Syria. MPs appeared unanimous in their insistence that the Syrian presence in Lebanon needed to be reduced.

In tandem with official measures to deport Syrian refugees, mob violence and anti-Syrian racism have gripped the streets of Lebanon. Videos of Syrians being beaten up by gangs of men, particularly in Christian areas, have circulated over the last two months.

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This week, leaflets were circulated in a neighbourhood of Achrafieh, which warned "illegal Syrians" to leave the area and threatened Lebanese who employed Syrians.

In Tabarja, a seaside town in the north of Lebanon, signs have appeared demanding Syrians without work permits to leave and for those with permits to not leave their homes between 7 pm and 6 am.

The security crackdown and vigilante actions have created a climate of fear among Syrians, pushing more to undertake deadly journeys via sea to escape Lebanon.