Lebanon is facing criticism for rounding up registered Syrian refugees and forcibly deporting them back to their war-torn homeland, despite the protection offered by the United Nations. The recent increase in anti-refugee sentiment across Lebanese society has fueled the intensification of raids aimed at returning Syrian refugees. While Lebanon hosts approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees, with around 805,000 officially registered with the UNHCR, both registered and unregistered refugees are being targeted for deportation.
One example is the case of Ayed, a 40-year-old Syrian refugee who had registered with the UNHCR in 2013. Despite his legal status, Ayed was forcibly returned to Syria by the Lebanese Army. His brother Ghassan, who witnessed the deportation, spoke about the desperate situation faced by many Syrian refugees. Ghassan recounted stories of extortion by Syrian authorities, who demanded money for the release of detained family members, only to find out later that they had been tortured and killed in Syrian prisons.
The fear of deportation looms large among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Many live in constant uncertainty and fear for their lives, having experienced arrests and violence in their home country. Malek, another Syrian refugee, shared his harrowing story of being arrested in Syria during his military service and subsequently attempting to rescue family members who were also detained. Despite registering with the UNHCR upon arriving in Lebanon, Maalek continues to live in fear of deportation and potential harm.
International and local NGOs, as well as human rights organizations, have raised concerns about Lebanon’s decision to repatriate Syrian refugees, arguing that it violates the principle of non-refoulment. Non-refoulement prohibits sending individuals back to a country where they may face torture, cruel treatment, or other forms of harm. The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) highlights the lack of judicial oversight in the deportation process, with the Lebanese Army conducting operations informally. The consequences of deportation vary, with some refugees returning unharmed while others face conscription into the Syrian army or endure torture and ill-treatment.
The UNHCR, which is responsible for protecting refugees in Lebanon, has been criticized for its limited effectiveness in addressing the situation. NGOs argue that the UNHCR should apply more pressure on the Lebanese government to prevent the deportations and protect the rights of Syrian refugees.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon face numerous challenges in their efforts to avoid deportation. The economic crisis in Lebanon, coupled with restrictive policies against refugees, has worsened their living conditions. Registered refugees may have relatively easier access to legal residency, but those who are unregistered face more complications. They often encounter discrimination and exploitation, with landlords charging inflated rents and evicting refugees without proper documentation. Reports suggest that bribes may be exchanged between refugees and local authorities to obtain the necessary documents for staying in Lebanon.
The dire situation faced by Syrian refugees in Lebanon cannot be understated. They live in constant fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The international community, including the UNHCR, must take urgent action to protect these vulnerable individuals and ensure that they are not forced back into a perilous situation in their homeland.