What happens after the forced deportation of refugees from Lebanon?

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On Monday January 29, 2024, Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) issued an investigative report revealing the details of the ongoing random security campaign implemented by the Lebanese authorities that aims to forcibly deport Syrian refugees from Lebanon during 2023. ACHR has documented 1,080 cases of arbitrary arrest, and 763 cases of forced deportation to Syria since the beginning of 2023 until December 30.

In April last year, a major security campaign in Lebanon targeted refugees, posing ongoing threats to their well-being and safety. Access Center for Human Rights published a report entitled “Lebanon goes beyond human rights by forcibly deporting refugees,” highlighting the realities faced by refugees in this security campaign against them. As a result of ACHR’s follow-up of the ongoing violations, another report followed its precedent, entitled “Kidnapping Crimes and Human Trafficking after the Forced Deportation of Refugees from Lebanon.”

1,080 arbitrary arrests were documented by ACHR from the beginning of 2023 until December 30, 763 people of which were forcibly deported to Syria.

These numbers reflect a stark reality facing refugees in Lebanon affirming their persistent exposure to threats and violations. Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) has shed light on these repeated and increasing violations, working to document the events and collect evidence accurately and professionally. This report highlights the extent of the impact of these repressive acts on Syrian refugees and the continued violations against them. It also confirms that arbitrary arrests and forced deportations ordered by the Lebanese authorities are still persisting, and focuses on presenting testimonies from victims and survivors offering insights into the stages of the incidents and the violations endured by refugees.

The testimonies ACHR obtained from the victims recounted horrific events and violations inflicted upon refugees, spanning from security raids on their residences to arbitrary arrests, subsequent transfer to Lebanese Army barracks and interrogations involving physical abuse, insults, harassment and intimidation. Following this, refugees are collectively transported to border crossings and unlawfully handed over to Syrian authorities. 

A new phase of violations unfolds under Syrian authorities, including security investigations, military, political and civil settlement procedures, arbitrary arrest and detention, passing through military and civil courts, and in some cases subjecting them to forced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and processing those of compulsory or reserve military service age to join the Syrian army. In some cases, refugees are forcibly re-handed over by the Syrian Army’s Fourth Division to smuggling gangs on the border, which in turn detains refugees in their homes and border farms, manipulate their fate, and exploit their vulnerable situation to blackmail them financially and sexually, and take advantage of their plight Testimonies suggest potential coordination between the two countries involving the Lebanese Army, Syrian Army, Syrian Army’s 4th division, smuggling gangs and certain individuals from the Lebanese Army. 

Regarding the forcibly deported cases that ended up in Syria after their release, returning to their original areas became challenging for various reasons, including: the destruction caused by military operations, the fear of arrest, elimination, or killing by the Syrian authorities present there or the militias and armed groups that control their areas, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces and Iraqi armed groups in the areas east of the Euphrates, and Hezbollah and other armed groups in the Qalamoun and Qusayr mountain range at the border with Lebanon. Some testimonies also indicated that their original areas are located in northwestern Syria in Idlib Governorate, which is controlled by armed groups from the opposition and is absolutely inaccessible. 

These decisions -including the decisions issued from the last Government- violate the International Declaration of Human Rights. To which Lebanon has explicitly committed itself in the introduction of its constitution. 

According to Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR)’s monitoring of the human rights situation of Syrian refugees over the past five years, Lebanon continues to leverage the Syrian Refuge issue as a bargaining tool and a means of exerting pressure on the international community. , noting that escalation always occurs before international conferences in support of Syria, such as the Brussels conference, which is supposed to be held in the second quarter of the present year. 

Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) recommends that the Lebanese Government adhere to international and local agreements and laws, particularly to Article 3 of the Convention against Torture, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, and grants refugees the right to legal protection and any plans to return them or enforce force deportations to Syria must be halted. ACHR also calls for the cancellation of the implementation of decisions that allow the deportation of refugees, including Supreme Defense Council Resolution No. 50\AR\XEAH\L of April 15, 2019, and Director General of Public Security Decision No. 43830\U.R.X of May 13, 2019.

The Lebanese government should also cease media incitement against refugees within the statements of politicians and government officials and develop clear policies for how to deal with refugees in accordance with the Lebanese Constitution and Lebanon’s obligations to international law.  Individuals facing deportation threats should be given the opportunity to appeal such decisions before the relevant judicial authorities. Refugees should also be granted the right to request legal residency without being subjected to impractical conditions, and the right to appeal rejections should be facilitated.

ACHR calls upon UNHCR to activate the role of its protection office, provide legal representation, respond to urgent requests to assist refugees that are at risk of deportation, always give priority to the protection of refugees at risk of deportation, activate resettlement policies or temporary protection in third countries, and provide shelter for refugees who lack security in their current residences. 

ACHR also recommends that the international community and donors exert pressure on the Lebanese government to take decisive actions to combat forced deportations and call on it to reverse forced deportation decisions and periodic random arrests of refugees, human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers. 
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