BEIRUT: A leaked General Security document instructing airlines not to bring Palestinian refugees from Syria to Lebanon has highlighted the extent of an ongoing selective entry policy that a rights group called “blatantly discriminatory.”
The document, dated May 3, was released Tuesday as part of a briefing on the issue by Amnesty International, and quoted the security body as telling airlines to not transport such people to Lebanon “no matter the reason and regardless of the documents or IDs that they hold.” The instructions are signed by the head of the airport branch of General Security and threaten companies who do not comply with a fine.
“This is a blatant discriminatory practice and a breach of Lebanon's obligations under international law,” Amnesty International’s Charlotte Phillips, who helped with the briefing research, told The Daily Star.
Lebanon should accept these refugees in dire circumstances as it is “obliged to do under international law,” she added.
The document is the latest in a series of signs that Lebanon is cracking down specifically on Palestinian refugees from Syria, and was issued the same day that airport authorities detained 49 Syrian and Palestinian refugees, allegedly for holding fake travel documents. The Palestinians – who numbered around 40 – were deported to Syria the same weekend.
“No one who is seeking safe refuge from the Syria crisis should be forcibly returned there. All refugees must be allowed to reside in Lebanon without fear of arrest or deportation,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty’s head of refugee and migrants’ rights, in the report.
“Unfortunately, the new restrictions in Lebanon are only the most recent example of policies that discriminate against Palestinian refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.”
Restrictions introduced in May this year have forced Palestinians from Syria to fulfill a new and almost impossible set of requirements.
“Palestinians need a preapproved visa or valid ticket to a third country [which] are almost impossible for Palestinians in Syria to meet,” said Phillips. Such policies represent a “disregard for the rights of refugees,” she added.
This interpretation is corroborated by UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.
“Palestine refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria are subjected to a separate visa policy, which is both expensive and offers a limited duration of stay,” read a statement on UNRWA’s website.
Amnesty’s Phillips said: “What we found is that Lebanese authorities are turning away Palestinian refugees trying to flee the conflict in Syria and including the most vulnerable refugees traveling with infants or children.”
These restrictions have left families divided on opposite sides of the border. Some Palestinians who left their children with relatives in Lebanon while they returned to Syria to obtain documents were denied re-entry. Amnesty cited one case of a woman who was six months pregnant and accompanied by five children whose entry request was rejected despite having recently escaped the besieged Yarmouk Camp near Damascus.
They also face difficulties once inside Lebanon.
Amnesty said it had received information that some Palestinians “are not being allowed to renew their temporary visas or residency permits, leaving them in legal limbo and at risk of arrest and deportation.”
“The Lebanese authorities must immediately end the blatantly discriminatory policies towards Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria. While the influx of refugees has placed an immense strain on Lebanon’s resources, there is no excuse for abandoning Palestinian refugees who are seeking safety in Lebanon,” said Elsayed-Ali.
Around 455,000 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon. Since the war in neighboring Syria began over three years ago, more than 1 million refugees have entered Lebanon, around 50,000 of whom are Palestinian.
Palestinians fleeing Syria have also faced difficulty entering other countries, with Jordan having barred their entry since January 2013. Amnesty also said that the testimonies of Palestinian refugees indicated that it was more difficult for them to enter Turkey than Syrian nationals.
“Of course we have to recognize the huge strain on Lebanon,” added Phillips. “We are also asking the international community to resettle by taking the most vulnerable people elsewhere.”