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Lebanon: Six detained Syrian refugees will not be deported, says security agency

General Security announces the Syrian men will be allowed to remain in Lebanon after outcry from rights group over risk to refugees from Daraa
People walk past open shops and pedlar stalls during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, in the Abu al-Foz street mainly inhabited by Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian refugees, in the Baddawi Palestinian Camp on the outskirts of Lebanon's Tripoli (AFP)

Lebanon has vowed not to deport six Syrian refugees following an outcry from human rights organisations that the men would face persecution if returned to their home country.

Five of the six men - who were detained last month after entering Lebanon from Syria - are from the besieged Daraa province, where government forces and a local negotiating committee reached a fragile ceasefire on Monday.

The lawyer for the six men was given an ultimatum over the weekend for them to find a third country to seek refuge in or be deported back to Syria, despite the fact that their passports were being held at the embassy, and none of their relatives were in Lebanon to collect them.

On Thursday, however, the General Security agency said the men would be allowed to remain in Lebanon. "General Security will not deport the six Syrians and will work to regularise their legal status," the agency's chief official, Abbas Ibrahim, told AFP.

The Lebanese army announced the arrest of six Syrian nationals reportedly entering the country illegally late last month.

Syrian government forces have besieged the city of Daraa since late June, which escalated tensions throughout the province and displaced thousands of civilians.

On Monday, some rebels began handing over their weapons to the government in the hope of ending the siege and hastening the return of the displaced.

Risk to returnees

A report from Amnesty International has documented the arrests and torture by the authorities of 66 Syrian refugees who returned home.

Lebanon: 'Urgent' action needed for Syrians facing deportation
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The human rights organisation documented cases of Syrian intelligence officers electrocuting and raping returning refugees.

Five died in custody, and the whereabouts of 17 who disappeared is still unknown.

“Returnees are at risk,” Lynn Maalouf, regional deputy director at Amnesty International told MEE.

“Our findings show that the Lebanese authorities should not deport anyone to Syria, as they would be at risk of these gross violations in any part of the country. These refugees have often been accused by intelligence officers of being traitors for leaving the country. So in the case of the men from Daraa, they would be at a heightened risk.”

There are a little over 850,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the United Nations, though the total number of Syrians in the country is about 1.5 million.

Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council in 2019 issued a decision to deport Syrians entering Lebanon through illegal border crossings.

Around half a million people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, including thousands of people held in Syrian intelligence prisons as a result of brutal torture, amid the failure to reach a comprehensive solution to end 10 years of war.

With the Syrian government's recapture of the south and centre of the country, and the fighting calming to some extent, the Lebanese government has repeatedly called for Syrian refugees to return, but human rights organisations say the conditions are not right.