The New York-based Human Rights Watch has reported today that at least three Syrians deported by the Lebanese authorities have already been arrested by the Syrian regime upon their return to their home country. Between 21 May and 28 August, said the rights watchdog, 2,731 Syrians were deported from Lebanon and handed directly to the authorities in Syria, in accordance with Beirut's decision in May to deport all Syrians entering irregularly after 24 April this year.
Lebanon's General Security Directorate has, however, deported at least three Syrians who fled from their country before that cut-off date. They have now been detained by the Syrian regime.
According to Lama Fakih, the acting Middle East Director at HRW, "Lebanon is putting Syrians at grave risk by returning them to the country they fled and handing them over to a government that is responsible for mass atrocities." She outlined the legal protection that Lebanon is obliged to provide: "Lebanon is legally obligated to allow people to challenge their deportation and argue for protection. And it is forbidden by law to return anyone to face persecution or torture."
The arrests of the three Syrians, and the possibility of more, demonstrates the practice of the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad to arrest, interrogate and even torture Syrians who return to the embattled country, many of whom went home following promises of safety and reconciliation. This undermines the narrative put forward by the Syrian regime and its allies that its recaptured territory is secure from the effects of the eight-year long civil war that has ravaged Syria, and that it is open to attempts at reconciliation and pardons.
Lebanon's role in the return of Syrian refugees was made clear through a series of governmental measures this year, in which makeshift homes and refugee shelters were demolished along with a crackdown on Syrians working illegally. Such moves go against the Convention Against Torture of which Lebanon is part, obligating the country not to return or extradite anyone in danger of being harmed or tortured. It is also part of the principle of non-refoulement in international law, which obligates a nation not to return people to where they risk persecution.
There are an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon who have crossed the border since the conflict in Syria began in 2011. Legally speaking, the government in Beirut should allow anyone at risk of deportation the chance to see a lawyer, to meet with the UN refugee agency, and to present their argument against deportation in a competent court.
The arrests of the refugees by the Assad regime and Lebanon's part in the process are an example of the kind of human rights violations perpetrated by Syria and its affiliates. They are among many by the Assad regime which HRW covers, including forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and harassment.