Lebanon denies forcing Syrians home from Beirut airport

Lebanon hosts almost one million Syrian refugees. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 May 2019

Lebanon denies forcing Syrians home from Beirut airport

  • Lebanon’s General Security agency “categorically denies it forced any Syrian to sign any form,” it said in a statement
  • General Security estimates that over 170,000 Syrians returned home from Lebanon between December 2017 and March 2019

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces on Saturday denied accusations by rights groups that they had coerced Syrians who had landed at Beirut airport into signing forms to return to their war-torn country.
Human Rights Watch and four other groups Friday accused Lebanon of “summarily deporting” at least 16 Syrians on April 26, after forcing them to sign “voluntary repatriation forms.”
Most of them had been sent back to Lebanon after they were barred from entering northern Cyprus via Turkey, quashing their plans to seek asylum, HRW said.
But Lebanon’s General Security agency “categorically denies it forced any Syrian to sign any form,” it said in a statement carried by state-run news agency NNA on Saturday.
“Any Syrian who arrives in Lebanon and does not meet entry requirements, and... wants to go to Syria because they do not wish to remain in their country of residence for a number of reasons, signs a declaration of responsibility for choosing to return voluntarily,” it said.
Lebanon hosts almost one million Syrian refugees, a significant burden for a country that had 4.5 million inhabitants before the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011.
The latest deportees said they were “pressured” by General Security officers at the airport, the rights group said.
Around 30 Syrians have been deported from Beirut airport this year by the General Security agency, the rights group said, citing local refugee organizations.
General Security estimates that over 170,000 Syrians returned home from Lebanon between December 2017 and March 2019.
The conflict has wound down in Syria, after a string of victories by the regime and its Russian ally since 2015, but the United Nations has stressed all returns should be voluntary.
The rights groups say some 74 percent of Syrians in Lebanon lack legal residency and are at risk of detention.
Local media in Lebanon have reported that the Supreme Defense Council, whose decisions are not made public, recently instructed General Security to deport all Syrians who have entered the country illegally.
The official NNA news agency, quoting a “security report,” said Friday that Lebanese authorities had deported 301 Syrians between May 7 and May 20.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions inside the country and abroad.
The war was triggered in March 2011 by a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.


Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

Updated 22 min ago

Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

  • 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea
  • It came days after Libyan navy patrols “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats

TRIPOLI: The Libyan navy said Sunday 335 migrants had been rescued and one body recovered in separate operations off the coast, as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Nine children were among 57 migrants in a wooden boat rescued Saturday about 40 nautical miles from the town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, navy spokesman General Ayoub Kacem told AFP.
He said they were from Ethiopia and Egypt.
It came days after Libyan navy patrols on Tuesday “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats northwest and northeast of Tripoli,” Kacem added.
The operations took place off the coasts of the cities of Khoms, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli, and Sabratha, located 70 kilometers west of the capital.
According to the statement, 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea, including 35 women and 11 children.
One body was also recovered by the coast guard.
Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.
In general, migrants rescued at sea are first met by humanitarian agencies that provide medical care and food.
They are then taken into the charge of the body working to combat immigration at the interior ministry of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord.
On August 9, the Libyan navy accused the authorities of failing to manage migrants rescued at sea, claiming that it could be forced to let people go free once brought back to land.
Despite the risks, migrants continue to attempt to reach Europe by sea, preferring to take their chances than stay in Libya, where they are subject to abuse, extortion and torture, according to humanitarian organizations.