Lebanon ‘forcibly deported’ nearly 2,500 Syrian refugees: Amnesty

Syrian refugees abandon a refugee camp in the in the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, in the Bekaa valley. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 August 2019

Lebanon ‘forcibly deported’ nearly 2,500 Syrian refugees: Amnesty

  • Amnesty called on authorities to end the expulsions
  • Rights groups have decried measures to make the lives of refugees increasingly difficult

BEIRUT: Lebanon has “forcibly deported” nearly 2,500 Syrian refugees back to their war-torn homeland since May, Amnesty International said Tuesday, calling on authorities to end the expulsions.
Amnesty cited data from Lebanon’s General Security agency and the Lebanese government showing that some 2,447 Syrians had been expelled between mid-May and Aug. 9, the rights group said in a statement.
General Security on May 13 started implementing an order from Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council to deport refugees who had entered the country illegally after April 2019, it said.
It was not immediately clear whether all those expelled had entered illegally.
“We urge the Lebanese authorities to stop these deportations as a matter of urgency,” said Amnesty’s Middle East Research Director, Lynn Maalouf.
Any attempt to forcibly return refugees is “a clear violation of Lebanon’s non-refoulement obligations,” she said.
Non-refoulement is a principle of international law that bars governments from deporting people to countries where they would face persecution.
The Mediterranean country of around 4.5 million people says it hosts some 1.5 million Syrians, of which nearly a million are UN-registered refugees.
Lebanese politicians routinely blame the country’s economic and other woes on Syrian refugees and the government has ratcheted up the pressure to send them back.
Rights groups have decried measures to make the lives of refugees increasingly difficult.
Since June, more than 3,600 Syrian families have seen their shelters demolished in the eastern region of Arsal, according to local authorities.
Homes made of anything other than timber and plastic sheeting are not allowed.
Earlier this month, the army destroyed a further 350 structures in the north of the country and arrested dozens of people for lacking residency documents, humanitarian groups said.
The labor ministry, meanwhile, is cracking down on foreign workers without a permit, a move activists say largely targets Syrians.


Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

Updated 37 min 29 sec ago

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

  • Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast
  • The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors

QARTABA, Lebanon: Three firefighters. One Lebanese family. The same restless wait. Rita Hitti has not slept a wink since the Beirut port blast, when her firefighting son, nephew and son-in-law went missing.
“In one piece or several, we want our sons back,” she told AFP from the Hitti family’s home in the mountain town of Qartaba, north of Beirut.
“We have been waiting for the remains for six days,” she added, dark circles under her eyes.
Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast that killed 160 people and wounded at least 6,000 others across town.
They were among the first rescuers at the scene. They have not been heard of since.
Near the entrance to their Qartaba home, the three men are praised as “heroes” in a huge banner unfurled over a wall.
The double exposure shot shows them in the foreground dressed sharply in suits.
In the background, the blast’s now-infamous pink plume rises above their heads as they try to douse a fire.
An eerie calm filled the stone-arched living room, where dozens of relatives and neighbors gathered around Rita, the mother of Najib Hitti.
The women were mum, the men whispered between themselves, the young shuffled in and out of the room, quietly.
Karlen, Rita’s daughter, looked among the most sombre, with her husband Charbel Karam, brother Najib and cousin Charbel all missing.
Sitting next to her mother on the couch, she fought back tears and did not say a single word.
The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors.
The health ministry has said the number of missing stands at less than 20, while the army announced it had lifted five corpses from beneath the rubble.
A large blaze was still ripping through the blast site when the Hittis and other relatives of port employees dashed to the disaster zone to check on their loved ones.
But they were stopped by security forces.
“I told them I would know my boys from their smell,” Rita said she told an officer who barred her from the site.
“Let me enter to search for them and when I whiff their smell I will know where they are,” the mother said she pleaded.
Ever since, her hopes have gradually dwindled, but her anger is boiling.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation but the exact cause of the blast remains unclear.
Authorities say it was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unsecured for years.
Whatever the cause of the fire was, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of officials in charge of the port as well those who have ruled Lebanon country for decades.
“We gave them heroes and they returned them to us as ‘martyrs’,” Rita said, scoffing at the label officials have used to brand blast casualties.
“What martyrs? What were they protecting? The noxious things (authorities) were hiding in the port?” she asked rhetorically.
“They are martyrs of treachery.”
George, father of Charbel Hitti, also rushed to the blast site to look for his son and relatives after the explosion.
“I started to scream their names: Najib, Charbel... I was like a mad man,” he told AFP.
“We waited until 6 in the morning the next day for clues to what happened,” he said.
“In the end, I started crying.”
He did manage, however, to get one piece of information from a port security official close to the family who was at the scene of the blaze when the firefighting team first arrived on August 4.
The security official had told him that the firefighters were trying to break open the door to the ammonium nitrate warehouse because they could not find the keys before the explosion ripped the whole place apart.
A week has since passed and George said hopes of finding the three men alive have faded.
Assuming they are dead, George said he now wants one thing: “We just want DNA test results that are compatible with those of Charbel, Najib and Charbel,” he said.
“Imagine. This is everything we now wish for.”