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Amnesty International calls on EU leaders to protect Syria refugees in Lebanon

May 29, 2024 at 7:57 pm

The logo of Human Rights NGO Amnesty International is pictured in Paris on May 28, 2024 [STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP via Getty Images]

Prominent human rights group, Amnesty International, has urged leaders in the European Union and other regions to protect Syrian refugees in Lebanon, amid the increased deterioration of their human rights conditions within the country.

In a statement on Sunday, Amnesty highlighted the plight of Syrians in Lebanon as authorities increasingly impose harsh measures to drive them out, including the suspension of residency permits, arrests, detention and forcible deportations.

It came amid the eighth EU Ministerial Brussels Conference on ‘Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region’ that weekend, in which EU member states and other governments, as well as organisations involved, gathered in the Belgian capital, Brussels, to discuss issues such as fate of Syrians within their home country and abroad in the context of the ongoing Syrian civil war.

As a result of the conference, the EU pledged $2.3 billion toward supporting Syrian refugees and their host countries and communities, including Lebanon. Prior to that announcement, Amnesty International called for all those present at the conference to ensure that the funds do not contribute to human rights abuses, particularly by Lebanese authorities who have a history of being emboldened by such support.

The latest example is when European Commission President, Ursula Von Der Leyen, announced on 2 May a €1 billion Euro aid package to Lebanon, with a significant part of that dedicated toward strengthening Lebanese security services in curbing and restricting refugees’ and migrants’ efforts to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Four days later, Lebanon’s General Security Office implemented new measures against Syrian refugees within the country, such as restrictions on residency permits and employment, as well as raids, evictions, arrests and deportations.

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That widespread crackdown has left many refugees in Lebanon without legal status, reportedly resulting in 83 per cent of Syrian refugees there lacking residency status and 90 per cent living below the poverty line. It has also notably made them even more vulnerable to arrest and deportation by security services.

According to Amnesty, one anonymous Syrian man who has unsuccessfully tried to renew his family’s residency permits told it that “We don’t work; we tried to be legal but failed repeatedly. Now we are in hiding.” A Syrian mother of two also told the rights group that “If there was a safe zone in Syria, I would be the first to return. The regime is not safe for us.”

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, echoed those concerns, stating that “No part of Syria is safe for refugee returns. Lebanese authorities must halt the deportations and lift the restrictions, while the EU must uphold its legal and moral obligations to protect refugees.”

Blaming European Council President Von Der Leyen’s mission to limit refugee flows to Europe as having “encouraged Lebanese authorities to intensify their crackdown on refugees”, Majzoub emphasised the EU’s responsibility to help resettle the Syrian refugees who are increasingly in danger of being stripped of their rights and deported to Syria. “European states should show solidarity by increasing resettlements of Syrian refugees from Lebanon.”

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