Ruthless crackdown on Syrian refugees
Up until now, the Lebanese military had only been arresting Syrians on motorbikes or in cars
WASHINGTON: Everything happened so quickly that May morning in Lebanon. Mouad S. was heading into the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and he had deliberately passed through the nearby military checkpoint on foot. “Up until now, the Lebanese military had only been arresting Syrians on motorbikes or in cars,” the 25-yearold Syrian, who doesn’t want to share his real name, explained. He was soon to learn better. Mouad was arrested because he had no valid papers on him. Those who arrested him drove Mouad to another checkpoint, where he stayed the night. The next morning he was handed over to a group of men who drove him to the Syrian-Lebanese border, where they locked him in a building.
“I didn’t know who these men were, or who [which organisation] they belonged to. They kept saying they wanted to deport me to Syria,” he told DW. After over a decade of civil war, the Syrian government, which has been accused of crimes against humanity and many war crimes, controls around
70% of the country. It’s been suggested that Syrian returnees, who fear their government taking revenge on them for taking part in anti-government protests, would return to parts of the country still controlled by the opposition.
But these men threatened to send Mouad back into territory controlled by the Syrian government. “I was very scared,” Mouad says, “because I don’t know what I would face in Syria.” However three days later, he was free, thanks to $550 paid to the men holding him. Mouad was then allowed to resume his journey into Tripoli. His brother had sold a mobile phone and used his savings to pay the men. It was money the family could scarcely afford to part with. To this day, Mouad doesn’t know who the men were, whether they were people smugglers, a militia or something else entirely. “I only know that they are playing with our lives and our security, and they are clearly making money doing that,” he told DW.
Mouad is not the only Syrian in Lebanon with such concerns. For months now, many Syrians in Lebanon have been living in fear of deportation. Over recent years, Lebanese authorities have regularly deported Syrians using a regulation that says if they entered the country without legal permission after April 2019, they can be forced to go back. More recently, as Lebanon’s economic crisis has deepened, local authorities have been cracking down even harder on Syrian refugees. This has caused a sense of panic.
“Since that happened, I’m always afraid passing a checkpoint,” Mouad says. If he can, he now takes long detours for fear of being targeted again. In recent weeks, the Lebanese army has raided refugee camps and set up checkpoints to verify the papers of non-Lebanese nationals. According to refugees and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and the Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR), Syrians who didn’t have legal residence were arrested and, in many cases, deported. From the start of April until mid-May, the ACHR reports that between 200 and 700 Syrians are thought to have been deported to Syrian regime areas —Some Lebanese municipalities have also imposed curfews on Syrian residents. In early May, the Ministry of the Interior instructed local authorities to document every Syrian that moved into their areas. A federation of trade unions recently launched a “National Campaign to Liberate Lebanon from the Syrian Demographic Occupation.” And in recent interviews, the current Social Affairs Minister, Hector Hajjar, has warned of “dangerous demographic changes,” saying that locals “will become refugees in our own country.”