Rights group says Lebanon forcibly evicted at least 3,664 Syrian refugees
Lebanon local authorities have forcibly expelled thousands of Syrians from their homes since 2016, a human rights group warned on Friday.
"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,", Human Rights Watch said.
Almost one million Syrians are registered as refugees in Lebanon, though many believe the real number to be much higher.
Lebanon's population stood at just four million before neighbouring Syria's civil war broke out in 2011, which saw tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing across the border.
Anti-refugee sentiment in Lebanon has been spurred by several politicians who have blamed social and economic woes in the country on Syrian refugees, while calls for them to "return" have increased in the run-up to the country's first parliamentary elections in nearly a decade on 6 May.
"Municipalities have no legitimate justification for forcibly evicting Syrian refugees if it amounts to nationality-based or religious discrimination," said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at HRW.
"Lebanese leaders should curb rhetoric that encourages or condones forced evictions, expulsions, and other discriminatory and harassing treatment of refugees in Lebanon."
The evictions have caused refugees to lose income and property and their children to miss school or drop out altogether, according to HRW, which spoke to 57 Syrians affected by the measures.
They added that some municipalities have claimed the evictions were based on housing regulation infractions such as tenants not registering their leases with them.
But despite "widespread breaches by Lebanese citizens as well, the measures these municipalities have taken have been directed exclusively at Syrian nationals and not Lebanese citizens," it said.
HRW further pointed to discrimination on a religious basis, with most of the municipalities involved in forcibly evicting and expelling Syrian refugees predominantly populated by Christians.
All 57 interviewees who spoke to HRW identified as Muslim.
HRW also stated that, "Lebanon's refugee-hosting fatigue has been exacerbated by a lack of international support".
Refugees return to Syria
On Wednesday, around 500 Syrian refugees left southern Lebanon under an agreement between authorities in Beirut and Damascus to return them to their home country.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was aware of the returns but was not involved in the agreement, "considering the prevailing humanitarian and security situation in Syria".
Lebanon's foreign ministry accused UNHCR of "scaring the displaced from any return at this stage because of what it sees as an unstable security situation".
It criticised the UN agency's "renewed determination to refuse any positive signs for a return... despite the security situation in many Syrian towns currently being stable."
The ministry said this had led it to "re-evaluate" and "question" the UN agency's work.
Syria's war has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.