BEIRUT: Lebanon has deported dozens of Syrians back to the war-torn country they fled from as anti-Syrian sentiment grows amid a dire economic crisis, security officials and a humanitarian source said today.
One of the Syrians deported was an army defector, a relative said, warning that “his life is in danger”.
“The army have deported more than 50 Syrians from Lebanon in the past two weeks,” an army official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the press.
Another security official said dozens of Syrians had been expelled.
They said Lebanon’s army intelligence unit had been cracking down on undocumented Syrians, arresting them and handing them to border guards, who then expelled them from Lebanon.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled to neighbouring Lebanon after the country’s civil war began in 2011 with the brutal suppression of anti-regime protests.
Authorities say Lebanon hosts around two million Syrian refugees, while nearly 830,000 are registered with the United Nations.
Lebanese authorities have long pushed for Syrian refugees to return, and have made several repatriation efforts they describe as voluntary, but which rights groups say are forced.
Rights groups say some refugees have faced persecution, and reject the idea that refugee returns to Syria are safe.
“The army’s detention centres are full,” and other security agencies have refused to take in the arrested refugees, the army official said, commenting on the move.
“So the army had to take this measure and place them outside Lebanese borders,” he added.
The security and army officials said that Lebanese authorities did not coordinate the effort with Damascus, adding that some of the expelled refugees had returned to Lebanon with the help of smugglers who charged them US$100 per person.
A humanitarian source told AFP they had noticed increased army intelligence raids on Syrian communities in Beirut and the Mount Lebanon area since the beginning of April.
Approximately 450 Syrians had been arrested and at least 66 confirmed deported, they said.
“So far in 2023, at least five raids have taken place,” said the source, requesting anonymity as they were not allowed to speak to the media.
Since the Damascus regime regained control of most of Syria, some host countries have sought to expel refugees, citing a relative end to hostilities.
Lebanon has been mired since 2019 in an economic crisis that the World Bank said was one of the worst in modern history.