The Syrian Regime and Iranian Militias Pose a Serious Threat to the Lives of Forcibly Returned Refugees
A group of Syrian citizens stuck near al-Masna’ border area between Lebanon and Syria – September 2020
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) released a statement today entitled, ‘Lebanon’s Forced Repatration of Syrian Refugees Violates the Principle of Non-Refoulment of Refugees, with 168 Syrian Refugees Returned to Syria Since the Beginning of April 2023’, in which the group stressed that the Syrian regime and Iranian militias pose a serious threat to the lives of forcibly returned refugees.
The statement noted that, on April 17, 2023, the Lebanese army began carrying out brutal raids targeting areas of the country with a large Syrian refugee population, such as Bourj Hammoud, as well as a number of areas in Beirut city, Rechmaya area in the Aalay district in Mount Lebanon, and the Hammana and Saoufar areas in Mount Lebanon. Those offensives, which are still ongoing as of the date of the statement’s publication, target Syrian refugees who have been unable to obtain official documents establishing their legal presence in Lebanon, principally those who entered Lebanon in 2019 and since then illegally. However, the raids also target Syrians who were unable to renew their residence. All those detained have been transferred by the Lebanese military to the Land Border Regiment which in turn repatriates those refugees to the other side of the Lebanese borders in the border area of al-Masna’ between Lebanon and Syria.
The statement documents the refoulment of no fewer than 168 Syrian refugees in Lebanon since the beginning of April 2023, with almost one-third of this total being children and women. The overwhelming majority of forced returnees were brutally beaten and insulted during the raids on their houses and places of residence. They were denied the opportunity to take any of their personal belongings with them. They also had to survive with no shelter after being transferred to the border area between the Syrian and Lebanese borders, with the official Lebanese authorities failing to register their names or officially document that they legally and officially left Lebanon via the official borders. Furthermore, the Syrian regime refused to allow some of the forcibly repatriated refugees to cross into Syria under the pretext that the Lebanese army or Lebanon’s General Security had failed to coordinate with the Syrian side. The statement also notes that most of the forcibly repatriated returnees were then subjected to extortion, looting and exploitation by Syrian regime forces in the area separating the two border crossings between Syria and Lebanon. Regime forces demanded that the refugees pay sums of around $100 per person on average to facilitate their being returned to Lebanese territory by illegal means and via channels, most of which are operated by officers and personnel of the Syrian regime’s Fourth Division.
The statement also summarizes the most notable violations against refugees returning to the areas controlled by the Syrian regime since 2014. On this subject, the statement notes that SNHR has documented no fewer than 2,504 cases of arbitrary arrest, including 257 children and 199 women (adult female) against refugees or Syrians who had been living in foreign countries, on their return to Syria. All of these individuals were arrested by Syrian regime forces. Of this number, 1,517 were subsequently released, while 987 individuals remain in detention, including 764 people who are now classified as forcibly disappeared. Meanwhile, no fewer than 984 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who returned to areas under the control of the Syrian regime, including 22 children and 18 women, were arrested. Of those, 264 people were released by the Syrian regime, while 738 individuals remain in detention, including 472 people who are now classified as forcibly disappeared. Moreover, in addition to numerous cases of returning refugees being forcibly conscripted into the Syrian regime military, the regime has enacted many abusive laws to provide legal cover for its theft of the properties of IDPs and refugees such as, Law No. 63 of 2012, Decree 66/2012, Decree 19/2015, Decree 11/2016, Decree 12/2016, Decree 3/2018, and Law No. 10 of 2018 which was amended through Law No. 42/2018.
The statement reiterates and underlines the findings of the most recent report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI), that Syria is currently wholly unsafe for the return of refugees. The statement stresses that any refoulment of Syrian refugees while the current Syrian regime remains in power, with its current leadership and the structure of its brutal security apparatus intact, is a violation of the customary laws that bind all world states, including those states that have not ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. As things stand, approximately half of all Syrians are now either IDPs or refugees, and will not be able to return safely to their home country without a political transition being brought about beforehand. The Lebanese government shares legal responsibility for the torture, killings, enforced disappearance, and other violations committed by the Syrian regime against refugees forced to return, in addition, of course, to the Syrian regime’s direct responsibility for such violations.