©Lebanese Army handout

Lebanon: Syrians who survived boat sinking allegedly deported

Responding to the shocking news that almost 200 Syrian refugees rescued from a sinking boat off the coast of Lebanon on New Year’s Eve were unlawfully deported and delivered into the hands of the Syrian authorities, Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“The Lebanese army’s apparent deportation of these refugees shows, yet again, the callous disregard with which the authorities treat vulnerable people.

The Lebanese army’s apparent deportation of these refugees shows, yet again, the callous disregard with which the authorities treat vulnerable people.

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International

“They escaped the war in Syria, endured harsh conditions as refugees in Lebanon and then survived the sinking of their boat… only, it seems, to then be unlawfully delivered back into the hands of the very authorities they fled. They were then, apparently, preyed upon by corrupted officers and smugglers.

“Lebanon should respect its obligations under international law and stop deporting refugees to Syria where they face credible risks of arrest, torture, and other abuse.”

Background

A boat carrying around 230, mostly Syrian, people hoping to reach Europe reportedly began to sink after setting sail from the northern coast of Lebanon on 31 December 2022. Rescue services from the Lebanese navy and UN peacekeepers reportedly rescued all but two of the passengers; a Syrian woman and a child drowned.

After bringing them ashore to the Lebanese port of Tripoli, the Lebanese army reportedly loaded nearly 200 rescued Syrians, some of whom were registered with the UN Refugee Agency, into trucks and dropped them on the Syrian side of an unofficial border crossing in Wadi Khaled, a remote area of north-eastern Lebanon. Forced returns to Syria amount to a breach of Lebanon’s non-refoulement obligations not to return anyone to countries where they face a risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations.

After the refugees were taken across the border, they were allegedly held by men in Syrian army uniforms until family members who could afford to do so paid for them to be freed and brought back to Lebanon by smugglers.

One refugee, who was registered with the UN Refugee Agency, confirmed to Amnesty International that the Lebanese army deported him to Syria and handed him to the Syrian army. He said that a ‘senior army officer in civilian clothes’ then requested money in exchange for coordinating with smugglers for his return across the border, back into Lebanon.