According to a report issued by the Center for Human Rights (ACHR) today, 19 June 2023, entitled “Crimes of abduction and the human trade after the forced deportation of refugees from Lebanon”, Syrian refugees in Lebanon suffer from the phenomenon of widespread kidnapping for ransom. The Centre’s field team has monitored several cases in which victims, including women and children, have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment during their detention and deprivation of liberty by kidnappers.
Since the beginning of the civilian protests in Syria in 2011, and their transition from peaceful to armed in 2012, the landscape has been reflected (Political-security) in Syria over Lebanon, coupled with several security confrontations between parties loyal to the Government of the Syrian regime and the opposing parties inside Lebanon; Dozens of Syrian refugees were abducted as revenge for the abduction or disappearance of Lebanese in Syria hijackings were based on sectarian motives, and the Lebanese authorities did not undertake any concrete actions to track and hold the kidnappers accountable. impunity “, another crime could not justify a crime, and the domestic or international media had widely covered such abductions, but the situation of impunity had not ended in Lebanon.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon were not immune to the concerning spread of kidnappings in the country. Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR)’s field team has documented several cases of kidnappings where victims have been subjected to beating and other forms of mistreatment at the hands of kidnappers. The list of victims also includes children who suffered inhumane treatment.
Since the beginning of the civil protests in Syria in 2011, which escalated into an armed conflict in 2012, the Syrian political and security situation has had repercussions on Lebanon, reflected by several security confrontations between factions loyal to the Syrian regime and opposing Lebanese factions. During these confrontations, dozens of Syrian refugees were kidnapped as a form of retaliation for the kidnapping or disappearance of Lebanese individuals in Syria5. These waves of kidnappings were driven by sectarian motives6. The Lebanese authorities did not take any concrete measures to track down the kidnappers and hold them accountable7. One crime cannot be justified by another. These kidnapping operations were widely covered by local or international media, but the state of impunity in Lebanon is still present.
The kidnappings monitored by ACHR target Syrian civilian refugees; the perpetrators demand a ransom from the victims’ families in exchange for their release. Kidnapping gangs use social media to lure their victims, deceiving them with false promises of assistance related to seeking asylum in European countries in some cases. This leads victims to fall into the kidnapping trap, and subsequently, perpetrators request ransom from their families in exchange for their release.
According to ACHR’s documentation, some cases that were forcibly deported during the recent arbitrary security crackdown that started in April 2023 by the Lebanese authorities against Syrian refugees were exposed to the risk of kidnapping by human traffickers and smugglers. The Lebanese authorities left some of the forcibly deported refugees randomly near the “Wadi Khaled” border crossing, at the Lebanese-Syrian border, which increased their vulnerability to danger and financial extortion.
In border areas, kidnapping gangs exploit their victims to achieve financial gains, depriving them of their freedom to blackmail their relatives and demand ransom. According to testimonies and information received by ACHR, the detained refugees who are deprived of their freedom are subjected to heinous and brutal acts of violence. These acts include severe physical violence and sexual assaults, including rape. Some victims are even killed or go missing if they are unable to pay the requested ransom. The treatment of the victims is cruel and inhumane, as they are tortured to intensify their suffering and force their relatives to quickly pay the ransom for their release.
It is important to highlight that the information received by ACHR is sometimes relayed from one witness to another; these pieces of information may be circulated among more than five individuals at times. It is challenging to fully verify their accuracy according to the documentation methodology followed by ACHR unless the victims are able to provide detailed testimonies.
The recent security campaign targeting Syrian refugees in Lebanon, resulting in their forced deportation, has contributed to the escalation of financial extortion cases across the border by human traffickers. As a result, kidnapping crimes for ransom continue to occur within border areas between Lebanon and Syria. The majority of victims were forcibly deported; their fate remains uncertain as there are no systematic mechanisms supported by the Lebanese authorities to monitor and track the situation of Syrian refugees after their forced deportation. Several factors contribute to the increase of kidnapping crimes targeting Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including economic, social, security, and political factors.
During the security campaign in April 2023, ACHR recorded at least 82 cases of deported refugees who were handed over by the Fourth Division of the Syrian Army to human smugglers across the border via the “Wadi Khaled” border crossing in northern Lebanon. The victims were handed over to human smugglers to extort monetary sums from the refugees in exchange for their return to Lebanon, while others were left within the Syrian borders.
This report does not cover all aspects of this complex issue but merely sheds light on this issue of human rights abuse and grave violations that Syrian refugees are subjected to at the hands of criminal gangs, smugglers, and human traffickers. The report also includes recommendations aimed at enhancing urgent efforts to stop these crimes.
The Lebanese government should enhance the investigation and criminal prosecution of cases of kidnappings and unlawful detention of refugees, provide the necessary support to victims based on the principle of reparation, ensure fair trials for the perpetrators and the security of Syrian refugees who are at risk of kidnapping by criminal gangs and human trafficking networks. The measures taken should prioritize sufficient security measures in the areas of the Beqaa, Northern Lebanon, Akkar, and both sides of the Lebanese-Syrian border, specifically in the Wadi Khaled area, the Hermel-Houch El Sayyed area, Arsal area, and the Masnaa area. These measures should be promptly implemented and sustained. It is also crucial to facilitate the access of kidnapped refugees to impartial redress and compensation mechanisms and protect them from forced deportation during the investigation process related to their kidnapping cases.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon must actively work to combat kidnapping crimes and prevent incitement to such crimes while providing support and cooperation with relevant Lebanese authorities to urge them to apprehend the perpetrators and prosecute them before the competent judicial entities. The UNHCR should improve the protection of the most vulnerable refugees, including unaccompanied children, women, and the elderly, and provide them with the necessary psychological and social support in cases where they have been subjected to any psychological or physical harm.
To view the full report: