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Lebanon Steps Up Forceful Removals of Syrian Refugees

Syrian refugees look out from a tent at an informal settlement, during Ramadan, in Al-Marj, Bekaa, Lebanon, on April 5, 2023. (Source: L’Orient Today)

Amidst festering economic crisis and political stalemate, Lebanese authorities have stepped up their efforts to remove Syrian refugees from the country. In recent weeks, hundreds have been arrested, detained, and summarily deported by Lebanon’s army intelligence unit.

Since early April, the Lebanese army has conducted multiple raids across the country, arresting hundreds of Syrians who entered Lebanon irregularly or whose residency cards have expired. Following their arrest, many have been forcefully expelled into Syria. According to the Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR), which has been monitoring and documenting the recent raids and deportations, 542 people were arbitrarily arrested between 1 and 28 April, and some 200 people–including children–were deported. 

According to ACHR, arrested Syrians are briefly detained in centres belonging to the Ministry of Defense, including military barracks, before being deported. According to one widely cited security officer, refugees are being quickly removed because there are no spaces available within the country’s detention facilities. 

As the GDP has previously reported, Lebanon’s detention facilities have repeatedly been criticised for severe overcrowding. When apprehended, foreigners can be detained under both criminal and administrative procedures. Large numbers are detained in criminal facilities, where reports have highlighted insufficient access to food, water, and medical assistance; a lack of bed space; regular ill-treatment; and the use of torture. In October 2022, the country’s Director of General Security claimed that 42 percent of the country’s prison population was Syrian. 

Observers have challenged the recent expulsions, noting concerns about a lack of due process and the risk of torture and extortion upon return to Syria. “It is extremely alarming to see the army deciding the fate of refugees, without respecting due process or allowing those facing deportation to challenge their removal in court or seek protection. No refugee should be sent back to a place where their life will be at risk,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Anti-Syrian sentiment has been growing in Lebanon amidst the country’s ongoing financial crisis. The World Bank has characterised the situation in Lebanon as “among the worst economic crises globally since the mid-nineteenth century.” Many politicians have sought to place blame for the crisis on Syrians, claiming that they are a burden on the country’s limited resources and must be deported.

In October 2022, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun announced that the country’s General Security would start returning Syrians “in batches” and that this would be completed on a voluntary basis. However, rights groups argue that Syrians’ decisions to return cannot be considered free. As Amnesty International wrote: “For the return of refugees to their country of origin to be truly voluntary, it must be based on their free and informed consent. However, the dire conditions in Lebanon raise doubts about the ability of Syrian refugees to provide truly free consent.” 

Deportation Lebanon Middle East Syrian Refugee Crisis