BEIRUT: From May 21 until now, Lebanese authorities have deported 2,731 Syrians who entered the country via unofficial crossings, Lebanese General Security told The Daily Star Monday.
The agency denied a recent report by a human rights group that said some deportees had been detained and tortured in Syria after being handed over to Syrian authorities.
Recent decisions by the Higher Defense Council and General Security have allowed Lebanese authorities to deport Syrian refugees who entered the country illegally after April 24, 2019.
This represents a break with previous policy, under which Syrians who were in the country without legal residency documents might be arrested, but were generally not deported. The new policy is in line with assertions by Lebanese officials that most of Syria is safe and that refugees should return.
A report released earlier this month by Access Center for Human Rights researchers said the group had confirmed six cases of “unofficial deportation” of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, who were detained in May and June and “unlawfully delivered to Syrian security services.”
In all of those cases, the group said, the refugees had been living in Lebanon since before April 24, and some were registered with the U.N. refugee agency. At least two of the deportees were tortured by Syrian authorities after their return and were interrogated about “their activities in Lebanon, political affiliations, previous activism in Syria and the reason they were residing abroad,” the report said.
General Security Monday responded to The Daily Star’s request for comment on the report, saying that “the allegations contained in the report of the Access Center for Human Rights are false.”
In response to the request, the agency also gave 2,731 as the number of “Syrians who were returned for entering [Lebanon] surreptitiously” since May 21. It was not clear how many of those had been apprehended at the border and how many were living inside the country.
The agency did not respond to a question regarding what documentation would be accepted as proof that a refugee had entered Lebanon prior to April 24.
The UNHCR has been advising refugees to “ensure that you have any proof of entry before April 24 with you at all times,” including exit documents from Syria, appointment vouchers with the UNHCR, lease agreements, electricity bills, education certificates, hospital bills and Lebanese residency documents, even if expired.
A number of organizations have raised alarms about the new deportation policy and particularly about the lack of a court process.
Ghida Frangieh, an attorney with NGO The Legal Agenda, noted that the figures showed an average of 30 Syrians being deported per day. “The speed of the deportations is an additional proof that those deportations are illegal and do not respect due process,” she said. “Syria is not safe for everyone, yet Syrians are deported without any objective assessment of the risks they might face in Syria.”
George Ghali, executive director of the local human rights group ALEF, told The Daily Star that the number of deportations “is of great concern to us.”
“We have no idea whether any kind of screening was done to these individuals prior to their deportations to ensure that they are not at risk of persecution in Syria, something that could put Lebanon in violation of the principle of non-refoulement,” he said, referring to the principle of international law that forbids countries that receive refugees from returning them to countries where they would be in danger of persecution.
“More importantly, irregular entries to Lebanon are crimes, and therefore a court should issue such orders. Deportations done by [General Security] are in violation of due process and prevent individuals from being heard by a competent court.”