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Outcry after Lebanon deports 16 Syrians from Beirut airport

Lebanon hosts nearly one million Syrian refugees. [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 May, 2019

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Lebanon has 'summarily deported' at least 16 Syrians, some of them registered refugees, by forcing them to sign 'voluntary repatriation forms,' human rights groups said on Friday.
Lebanon deported at least 16 Syrians after they arrived at Beirut airport in April, some of them registered refugees, rights organisations said in a joint statement on Friday.

Lebanon hosts nearly one million Syrian refugees - a significant burden for a country of four million people - and there has been mounting pressure for them to go home even though the UN says many areas remain unsafe to return to. 

Some of the individuals, who were deported on 26 April, are registered refugees, said the statement signed by Human Rights Watch, the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), Legal Agenda, Frontiers Rights, and the Access Center for Human Rights.

At least five of those who were deported had registered with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

"Lebanese authorities shouldn't deport anyone to Syria without first allowing them a fair opportunity to argue their case for protection and ensuring that they don't face a real risk of persecution, torture, or other serious harm," said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Despite heated rhetoric calling for Syrians to return home, and coerced 'voluntary' returns, there continues to be significant risk of harm for refugees who do return to Syria," Fakih added.

Despite fears of torture and persecution after returning to the war-torn country, the deported Syrians were not given a chance to apply for asylum or challenge their summary deportation, but they were forced to sign "voluntary repatriation" forms instead.

The General Security Directorate – the agency that oversees the entry and exit of foreigners – has deported nearly 30 Syrians from Hariri International Airport in Beirut this year, NGOs working with refugees in Lebanon said.

Residency law in Lebanon is complex, which makes it difficult for Syrians to maintain legal status.

This exposes them to risk of exploitation and abuse as well as restricting their access to work, education, and health care.

It is estimated that seventy-four percent of Syrians in Lebanon now lack legal residency and risk detention for unlawful presence in the country.

Lebanon says it is hosting 1.5 million Syrians - around a quarter of its own population. Less than one million of them are registered with UN refugee agency the UNHCR.

They are frequently subjected to harrasment and detention by Lebanese security forces on various pretexts and suffer harsh living conditions.

Lebanese authorities have recently placed increasing pressure on Syrians in the country to return to Syria, saying that it is safe for them to do so.

The United Nations has consistently warned that conditions in the war-ravaged country are not suitable for such returns.

There have been reports of returning refugees being detained, conscripted into the army, or even killed by Assad regime forces in Syria.

Since 2017, leading Lebanese politicians have increasingly called for the return of Syrians to their country.

Read more: Actor Ben Stiller urges US to aid Syrian refugees

Earlier this month Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, President Michel Aoun's son-in-law, came under fire after criticising refugees on social media.

The Christian-dominated Free Patriotic Movement leader has courted controversy in the past for his anti-refugee rhetoric.

On 9 May, Lebanese President Aoun said that refugees constitute an "existential threat" to Lebanon.

Over 170,000 Syrian refugees returned to their country from Lebanon between December 2017 and March 2019, according to General Security Directorate.

Syrian refugees said they are returning to their unsafe country because of the hostile environment in Lebanon.

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