BEIRUT: The opposition March 14 coalition demanded Friday the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government over the deportation of 14 Syrians to Damascus, calling the move “a dangerous precedent.
”Meanwhile, Lebanon’s General Security, the target of scathing verbal attacks by March 14 politicians over the deportation, defended its decision to expel the Syrians, saying that it had frozen the expulsion of several Syrians whose lives would be endangered in their home country.
Wednesday’s expulsion of the 14 Syrians, including anti-regime activists, has caused a political stir in Lebanon, including a new split within the government after three ministers of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt denounced the decision and expressed sympathy for the deported Syrians.
The deportations have also aroused international alarm with the U.S. and the EU voicing concerns through their envoys in Beirut and stressing the importance of protecting all Syrians “in keeping with Lebanon’s international humanitarian obligations.”
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the opposition parliamentary Future bloc, said the government would be held accountable for deporting the 14 Syrians, urging the international community to take a firm stance on the expulsion. He renewed the March 14 demand for the government’s resignation.
Siniora said he had invited U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly and the EU Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst for a meeting at his office Friday to inform them of “this dangerous precedent” committed by the Lebanese government regardless of the charges the deported men are facing.
“This is a precedent adopted by the Lebanese government at the request or pressure from the Syrian government in order to hand over these men. Subsequently, it is a precedent for the deportation of others. This is the Lebanese government’s responsibility. We will pursue the matter and hold it accountable for what it did,” Siniora said in a statement after the meeting that was also attended by some March 14 MPs.
“Therefore, we ask officials in the European Union and the U.N. secretary-general to send a strongly worded message to the Lebanese government over this dangerous precedent it has committed in this respect and to refrain from any similar operation in the future,” he added.
Siniora also accused the Lebanese government of acting under the orders or pressure of Syria. “Information in our possession indicate the [deportation] came as a result of a request made by the Syrian authorities to the chief of General Security. We also heard that [Lebanese] authorities were unaware of this matter,” he said.Asked whether he was demanding the government’s resignation, Siniora said: “Of course, this has been our demand. Every day, we see several examples of the bad performance, mistakes and heavy damage caused by this government to Lebanon’s reputation. What was committed today was a big mistake against Lebanon’s reputation and its respect of international stances and human rights.”
Plumbly said that the U.N.’s position on the deportation of people was clear. He said that nobody should be deported to any place where his life could be in danger. “These are basic principles of the international community,” Plumbly said.
For his part, Mikati voiced support for General Security’s decision to deport the Syrians and defended his government’s policy to dissociate Lebanon from the repercussions of the 17-month uprising in Syria. He said the presence of thousands of Syrian refugee in Lebanon who fled the violence in their country must not prevent the government from carrying out court sentences issued against people convicted of crimes that have nothing to do with politics.
“If the government sees that it is not permissible to politicize every administrative, security or judicial measure based on laws and regulations in force, it is also anxious to respect the principles of the Human Rights Charter of which Lebanon was the first signatory, especially not to expose the people’s safety to danger,” Mikati said in a speech at an Iftar at the Grand Serail Friday night.
March 14 MP Marwan Hamadeh described the deportation of the Syrians as “a disgrace.”
“There should be a resounding outcry over such an issue because we do not want the security system to return to Lebanon,” he told Ash-Sharq radio station.
Hamadeh said March 14 MPs plan to submit queries in Parliament to the government about the deportations in order “to prosecute those who acted with or without a cover from the government to deport the 14 Syrians.” He called for the formation of “a neutral technocrat government” that can lead the country to drafting a balanced election law.
General Security defended the deportation, saying that it had frozen the expulsion of several Syrians whose lives would be endangered in their home country.
It reiterated that the deported Syrians had been sentenced for crimes they committed on Lebanese territory ranging from theft to forgery, attempted rape and assault, adding that the Syrian government had nothing to do with their crimes.
“The Directorate General of General Security has frozen the deportation of detainees involved in the ‘Lutfallah II’ arms ship case as well as arms smugglers who are still in the custody of the Lebanese judiciary, after they claimed during investigation that they belong to the Syrian opposition,” General Security said.
It added that the security apparatus did not deport scores of detainees whom international humanitarian organizations claimed would be in danger in their country, and that those who have voluntarily returned signed papers announcing their desire to return home.
Responding to March 14 campaigns against General Security, the statement said: “The Directorate General of General Security is not concerned with comments on political or partisan issues or statements aimed at twisting facts and diverting the path of the institution that until now has not deported a Syrian in Lebanon detained on charges of killing 10 Syrians in his country because, during investigations, he announced that he was with the Syrian opposition.”
For his part, Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali praised General Security’s deportation of the 14 Syrians.
“The General Security’s move upheld legal criteria. As I have read in the General Security statement, judicial sentences have been issued against those men for [committing] violations. Therefore, the application of Lebanese law to Syrian nationals must not be a cause of panic and worry,” Ali told reporters after meeting former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss.
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern over the deportation of the Syrians in their latest organization update issued Friday and said they were in contact with Lebanese officials over the issue.
“For some weeks UNHCR has been in contact with the office of the General Security to advocate for a clear and systematic process to ensure UNHCR access to all detained Syrians who express a fear of returning to Syria,” the report read. It added that such access, which UNHCR did not receive, is required to determine if such fears of persecution are well founded and if deportation is justified.
Human rights activists said the deportation undercut local, national and international agreements. Nabil Halabi, a human rights activist in north Lebanon, told The Daily Star that the 14 Syrians were likely not pro-opposition Syrian activists, as a number of politicians have claimed, “but the deportation is still a serious and likely politicized violation.” – With additional reporting by Francheska Hbayter