Geneva – The Lebanese authorities should immediately reverse the plan to deport Syrian refugees to their country and refrain from taking any action that would endanger their security and safety, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said Thursday in a statement.
Lebanese caretaker Minister of Displaced Persons Issam Sharaf al-Din's statement that Lebanon plans to deport 15,000 displaced Syrians per month is alarming. The minister said that Syria has become safe and that the war has ended.
Deporting refugees against their will is a clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement that protects refugees from expulsion or forcible return to countries where their lives or freedoms are at risk, as they might be subjected to torture and cruel and degrading treatment.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic confirmed in a report in September 2021 that the country is still an unsafe or stable place for refugees to return. The report added that it is not even safe for those internally displaced to return to the areas they were forced to leave due to the armed conflict.
Nour Olwan, Euro-Med Monitor's Chief Media Officer, said: "Forcibly returning Syrian refugees in Lebanon to their country means sentencing them to enforced disappearance, torture, or death. After all the brutal practices of the Syrian regime, can we trust its willingness or ability to embrace hundreds of thousands of refugees and provide them with a safe and dignified life?"
"We understand the complex crises that Lebanon is going through, but the solution does not begin with forcing vulnerable people to return to the areas from which they fled, and there is still danger on their lives there."
Moreover, the Lebanese government has unrealistic expectations for the Syrian regime's treatment of refugees who hold opposition views and are to be deported. The Lebanese minister said that dissidents have two options: they can return to Syria after pledging not to engage in any negative actions, or the UNHCR will ensure their transfer to a third country.
A number of refugees who were deported to Syria have been subjected to serious violations, amounting to death in some cases, according to human rights organizations.
Approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon, about 950,000 of whom are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon suffer from very poor living conditions, as 9 out of 10 of them live in extreme poverty. The proportion of Syrian refugee families that suffer from food insecurity is about 49%. 60% of Syrian refugee families live in overcrowded, endangered, or substandard housing.
For years, Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been suffering discrimination, including a number of laws that limit their ability to enjoy basic rights, especially the right to health and the right to work. In addition, they have been subjected to several attacks that caused many deaths and the burning of some of their camps, mostly motivated by hate speech and incitement by political officials and party figures.
The UNHCR should reject the plan to deport Syrian refugees in its current form, continue providing support and services to Syrian refugees, and get the Lebanese authorities to understand the consequences of the forced deportation of refugees.
Under its commitments in the United Nations Convention against Torture, Lebanon is obligated not to compel anyone who fears that he will be subjected to torture to return to his country. Article 3 of the convention states that "No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
The United Nations should pressure the Lebanese authorities to reverse the plan to deport the Syrian refugees, allow them to freely decide their fate, and prevent them from being returned to their homes until after ensuring that they are safe and in organized voluntary repatriation programmes.
Donor countries should intensify financial assistance for humanitarian programs for refugees in Lebanon and support the Lebanese authorities' efforts in hosting and providing them with necessary services.