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Lebanon minister: 20 returning refugees killed by Syria regime

At least 20 refugees that have returned to Syria from Lebanon have been killed by the regime and their allied forces, Lebanese Caretaker Minister for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merehbi announced on Saturday.

The lives of Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to areas controlled by the Syrian regime are in danger

Merehbi told reporters.

The Lebanese minister mentioned a particular case of three Syrians who he said had re-entered the country eight months ago and were killed at the end of October in the Homs countryside. Two of the three were just 13 and 14 years old; the third was their father, who was reportedly around the age of 50. Syrian opposition news agency Zaman Al Wasl stated that the killings were motivated by sectarianism, noting that at least five other members of that same family have been arrested by the Syrian government since 2013.

"The information received … also shows they were killed by a senior official in the Syrian regime's army," Merehbi said, adding that the total death toll could be even higher, but his ministry had not the ability to corroborate other reports.

A Syrian child is seen at a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon on 8 March, 2013 [Rime Allaf/Twitter]

A Syrian child is seen at a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon on 8 March 2013 [Rime Allaf/Twitter]

Some 55,000 Syrians are believed to have returned to their homes from Lebanon, a figure the Lebanese General Security authorities put closer to 90,000.

However Merehbi went on to criticise what he called the lack of coordination between his ministry and the security apparatus, which has established centres to register refugees returning to Syria. Whilst some Syrians have left Lebanon of their own accord, other Lebanese government programmes have mandated return to areas of Syria deemed safe. Some centres have even imposed lifetime bans on many refugees returning to Lebanon, whilst still documenting the departures as voluntary.

Read: Right of return? The fate of Syrians returning to regime-held territory

Earlier this year Hezbollah, which has sided with the Syrian regime in the conflict against opposition groups, also announced the opening of several centres across Lebanon to assist those willing to voluntarily return to Syria.

However, no guarantees have been provided by the militia group, or the Syrian regime, that those returning will be protected from any form of reprisals, particularly those who supported the revolution against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Many fear what will await them on their return, with 92 per cent of refugees in the Lebanese camp of Arsal, surveyed by Zaman Al-Wasl, stating that they would not return to towns deemed in safe in western Qalamoun.

If the Syrian regime really wants Syrians to come back they should stop killing them when they return home

Merehbi said.

In August, Human Rights Watch condemned the Lebanese government's expulsion of hundreds of Syrian refugees from their temporary homes in the country in a new report "Our Homes Are Not For Strangers".

"At least 13 municipalities in Lebanon have forcibly evicted at least 3,664 Syrian refugees from their homes and expelled them from the municipalities, apparently because of their nationality or religion," the report stated, adding that another 42,000 remain at risk of eviction.

HRW officials interviewed some 57 Syrian affected by the recent evictions, as well as municipal officials and legal experts, noting that violence was often used to force refugees from their residences

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Under international law, refugees cannot be deported to a country where they at risk of abuse, and all returns must be voluntary, safe and dignified. The UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR) and Western governments have warned that it is too early to discuss large-scale returns of refugees to Syria, as insecurity may lead to a second wave of displacement.

Merehbi added that he is not opposed to refugees returning, but that the procedure must be overseen by the UN to ensure it is voluntary.

Read: UN aid trucks reach remote Rukban camp in Syria

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HRWInternational OrganisationsLebanonMiddle EastNewsSyria
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