Amnesty slams Lebanon ‘voluntary returns’ of Syria refugees

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Amnesty International urged the Lebanese authorities on Friday to reconsider their “voluntary returns” policy for Syrian refugees, saying it puts them at “risk of suffering from heinous abuse.”

It comes just days after Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced that the general security agency would begin sending refugees back to Syria “in batches” starting next week, the London-based human rights group said.

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“The Lebanese authorities are scaling up the so-called voluntary returns... when it is well established that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are not in a position to take a free and informed decision about their return,” Amnesty’s acting deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Semaan, said.

“In enthusiastically facilitating these returns, the Lebanese authorities are knowingly putting Syrian refugees at risk of suffering from heinous abuse and persecution upon their return to Syria.”

Lebanon hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled more than a decade of war back home, marking the world’s highest proportion of refugees per capita in one country.

This is not the first time Beirut has sought to return Syrian refugees.

In June, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Lebanon was ready to expel Syrian refugees living in the country if the international community does not work to repatriate them.

Lebanon has been grappling with its worst ever economic crisis that has seen the Lebanese pound shed some 95 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market.

Nine out of 10 Syrians in Lebanon are living in poverty, while poverty levels for Lebanese have also risen to cover more than 80 percent of the population.

Since 2017, Lebanese authorities have organized “voluntary repatriation” programs that have seen the return of some 400,000 Syrians, according to a list of names submitted to Damascus for approval.

General Security director Abbas Ibrahim, who has organized the “programs,” said Thursday that the next batch of Syrians to be sent home next week would be made up of 1,600 people.

Read more: Lebanon arrests five agents suspected of torturing Syrian detainee to death

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