Beirut releases long-sought deportation numbers, draws scrutiny from Amnesty International
Amnesty International called on Beirut late Wednesday to halt the expulsion of Syrians seeking asylum in Lebanon, following an announcement by the country’s General Security Organization that 2,447 refugees were sent back to Syria between May 13 and August 9.
In May, the agency began enforcing the decision of the Higher Defense Council, a presidential-led government committee that makes security laws, to extradite Syrians who illegally crossed into Lebanon after April 24 of this year.
Amnesty said that Lebanon’s actions violated the refugees’ right to non-refoulement under international law, which forbids a government from returning refugees to their country of origin if doing so endangers them.
“We don’t know how the Syrian state is receiving them, if they are being detained or interrogated…. We don’t know what the situation is on the ground,” Sahar Mandour, a Lebanon researcher for Amnesty International, told The Media Line. “And we have no possible mechanism to oversee these returns as the Syrian state is not allowing monitoring processes or transparency in the refugees’ return.”
George Ghali, executive director of ALEF Act For Human Rights in Beirut agrees. Lebanon, he told The Media Line, had a responsibility to determine and to continue to monitor the risks that refugees faced in Syria, adding that, ideally, this should be done by the courts.
“Illegal entry is a crime; therefore the judiciary should be issuing an order for deportation, not the Lebanese [government],” Ghali said. “[They have] an obligation to listen to why these people are entering illegally.”
Amnesty and other NGOs have for months demanded Beirut release the exact number of deportations.
“I think it’s alarming because the capacity to counter the deportation policy is limited [now that] the government [released the data],” Mandour said. “It’s public policy now.”
Mandour noted the government’s policy this year came in the “context” of refugees fleeing to Lebanon since the Syrian civil war began more than eight years ago, which has stressed Lebanon’s infrastructure, social services and struggling economy to their limits.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated there were almost a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon as of July 31, Amnesty International said.
ALEF’s Ghali explained to The Media Line that Lebanon now hosted the most refugees in proportion to its population of any country in the world. He said there were some 4 million Lebanese citizens living in the nation, as well as close to half a million Palestinians. There were now 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, meaning that one in four people in Lebanon was Syrian, he said.
“This is not the proper response [to the problem],” Ghali told The Media Line, referring to the deportations. “We have to acknowledge that the pressure they put on Lebanon is high and our resiliency has lessened due to the protracted length of the conflict [in Syria], but this does not justify the policies being imposed by the Lebanese government.”
The mandatory deportations come amid highly publicized ones, in which the General Security Organization organizes buses taking Syrians who entered illegally back to their country. Amnesty’s Mandour was skeptical regarding the “voluntary” nature of such efforts.
“People are indirectly forced onto these buses due to poverty, hate crimes and implementation of labor laws that prevent Syrians from working [in Lebanon]. Most of the returnees on these buses − we as Amnesty have not qualified these as voluntary,” she said.
In March, the Beirut-based Daily Star reported that approximately 172,000 refugees had gone back to Syria from Lebanon since December 2017.
ALEF’s Ghali said that many Syrians who entered Lebanon both before and after the April 24 cut-off date lacked adequate documentation, leading to expulsions of people who should not be deported under the law. He added that seventy-four percent of the Syrians did not have a legal status in Lebanon.
“It increases the refugees’ risk of vulnerability and the potential to be abused… and it generates further security risks and problems in enforcing the law [for Lebanon],” Ghali said.
(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies Program)