BRUSSLES: The European Union called on Lebanon Saturday not to send Syrian refugees back across the border, expressing concern that they were not being protected and could face torture if forced to return.
A statement issued on behalf of the top EU diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said she was "concerned by the recent reports of expulsion by the Lebanese authorities of Syrian nationals to Syria."
"Today Syria is in a situation where people's lives are at risk across the country, including well documented reports of torture," the statement said.
"Lebanon must ensure that no deportation takes place outside the framework of its international obligations, and that effective and transparent procedures are in place, in consultation with all appropriate domestic and international organisations..."
The EU noted Beirut had given assurances with regard to respect for its international obligations and had extended support to those fleeing the violence in Syria.
"The EU is assisting the Lebanese authorities in addressing the constraints and challenges this situation places on the country, in terms of rule of law, protection, safety and security, social and economic development," it said.
"The EU reiterates expectations concerning the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities to continue to provide protection, in line with the principle of non-refoulement," it added.
On Wednesday Lebanon deported 14 Syrians despite the raging violence over the border, drawing criticism from human rights activists.
The Lebanese authorities said the reasons for the expulsions were not political but a Human Rights Watch representative in Beirut said some of the deportees had expressed feared of persecution on their return.
One of them might be a political activist, an HRW representative said, noting that the detainee had contacted HRW prior to being handed over to Syrian authorities at the border and expressed fear about what might happen to him.
But a Lebanese security official told AFP that those deported were wanted for common law not political offences.