(Photo by Vassilis Poularikas/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lebanese authorities must not deport six detained refugees to Syria

The Lebanese authorities must not deport six Syrian refugees who were arrested last week after collecting their passports from the Syrian embassy, Amnesty International said today, urging them to release the refugees or charge them with a recognizable offense.

A Lebanese army statement on 28 August confirmed that its intelligence directorate had over the past four days arrested the six men outside the embassy for entering the country irregularly, and that they had been handed over to the General Security directorate. The family do not know their whereabouts. Amnesty International believes they are now at imminent risk of deportation to Syria. 

“Lebanon’s General Security directorate must ensure that these men are not forcibly returned to Syria. Doing so could endanger their lives. Arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture remain rife in Syria, and armed hostilities in some parts of the country have intensified significantly in recent months. No part of Syria is safe for returns, and these men must be protected,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Under international law, the prohibition of refoulement means that no one should be returned to a country where they are at real risk of serious human rights violations. Deporting these men would be a serious violation of Lebanon’s international obligations, including under the UN Torture Convention. Instead, Lebanese officials should release them or charge them with a recognizable offense.”

Lebanon began deporting Syrian refugees following a decision by the Higher Defence Council on 13 May 2019. 

Amnesty International spoke to the brother of one of the men. He said his brother had received a call from the embassy on 26 August, telling him to come and collect the passport he had applied for on 19 August. 

The man believes his brother was arrested after collecting the passport at the embassy, because he sent him a message saying he had the passport. He had entered Lebanon on 18 August with three other Syrians.

“My brother sent me a text message when he arrived to the Syrian embassy and sent another when he got his passport. After that, I didn’t hear back from him. My messages are not reaching him. I have no idea where he is. But I am assuming that he was in the embassy when he contacted me saying he picked up the passport,” he said. 

Under international law, the prohibition of refoulement means that no one should be returned to a country where they are at real risk of serious human rights violations.

Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International

Five of the six men are believed to be from Daraa governorate in southern Syria, where violent clashes between Syrian government forces and armed groups have intensified in recent months. Hundreds have been killed or injured and tens of thousands of civilians have fled the area. Government forces have also placed a deadly siege on Daraa al-Balad.

Given the recent intensification of hostilities in Daraa al-Balad, Amnesty International is calling on the Lebanese and Jordanian authorities to allow people fleeing conflict in Syria legal entry and safe refuge. 

“The plight of these men should serve as a reminder of the growing risks faced by Syrian refugees in neighbouring host countries as well as the woefully insufficient numbers of international resettlement places available for refugees who have fled conflict and crisis in their home countries. We urge states worldwide, including EU member states, to do their fair share to protect refugees by boosting the number of resettlement places on offer,” said Lynn Maalouf.