Lebanon deporting Syrian refugees back into harm’s way – report
Thousands of Syrians who had sought refuge in Lebanon because of the conflict in their homeland – including unaccompanied children – are being rounded up by the Lebanese army and deported back to Syria, advocacy groups say.
The deportations putting the Syrians back into nightmarish and sometimes dangerous situations.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that since April, more than a hundred raids, 2,200 arrests, and 1,800 deportations of Syrian refugees have occurred.
In a report, HRW says deported Syrians have told of abuse and trauma after their deportation.
One man said that intelligence officers had tortured him and others while in detention, including through electric shocks, beatings with a water pipe, and being hung from the ceiling by their hands.
Others deported by Lebanon ended up in the hands of smugglers who extorted family members for their return, HRW says, and some people simply disappeared after returning to Syria.
More than 1.5 million Syrians are living in Lebanon, which is hosting the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, despite the country’s crippling economic crisis.
Most of the Syrians fled after the Syrian conflict broke out 2011, and during the ensuing years when Syrian government forces and other armed groups oversaw the military bombardment, torture, and enforced disappearances that created misery across the country.
HRW says the deportations from Lebanon are just the latest in a list of draconian measures aimed at making Syrians in Lebanon feel they have no choice but to return to Syria.
Lebanese regulations have also stripped many Syrians of their legal status. Only 17 per cent of Syrian refugees hold legal residency, meaning they cannot move freely through checkpoints and have difficulty accessing health care or schools for children.
The HRW report says most Syrians already live in extreme poverty, but Lebanese soldiers have recently demolished refugee shelters.
The report cited one example of the deportation of a man, his wife, and four out of their five children, just after he had dropped off his 7-year-old daughter at school.
“Despite repeated pleas to pick up his daughter from school before being deported, the army rejected his request,” the report said.
“Deported Syrians said the LAF gave no consideration to their refugee status or fears of persecution if returned,” the report said.
“One man said the Syrian military arbitrarily detained, tortured, and forcibly conscripted him into the Syrian military’s reserve force after he was deported in April.”
HRW also interviewed three people who were pulled by the Lebanese military from a sinking boat which was carrying more than 200 people attempting to flee to Europe via the Mediterranean, including a man and his young nephew.
“In all deportation cases documented, the army failed to provide deportees with the opportunity to challenge their deportation,” the report said.
“When deportees told the army that they were registered as refugees with UNHCR, and feared being returned to Syria, their pleas were ignored.
“Six people reported abusive treatment during their deportation with beatings, threats, sexual harassment, and degrading treatment, including being blindfolded, slapped, and forced to stand for hours.”
HRW says Lebanese authorities summary deportation of Syrians is in breach of Lebanese law, which requires deportations to be conducted through a judicial authority or, in exceptional cases, by the decision of the General Director of General Security based on an assessment of individual circumstances.
“These deportations are also in breach of Lebanon’s obligations as a party to the UN Convention Against Torture and under the customary international law principle of non-refoulment not to forcibly return people to countries where they face a clear risk of torture or other persecution,” the report said.
“The detention and ill-treatment of children, family separation, and other abuses violate Lebanon’s children’s rights obligations.”
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says it is unsafe to return people to Syria and that it will not facilitate mass returns in the absence of key protection conditions.
The report accuses the Lebanese armed forces of effectively “selling” Syrians to traffickers who then sold them back to their families.