HRW condemns ‘pressure’ on Syrians to leave Lebanon

At least 15,000 people, including 7,500 children, have been affected by Beirut’s order to demolish refugee shelters. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2019
0

HRW condemns ‘pressure’ on Syrians to leave Lebanon

BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday condemned Lebanon’s order for Syrian refugees to demolish their hard shelters as tantamount to “illegitimate pressure” on them to return to their war-torn country.
Lebanon, a country of some 4 million people, says it hosts at least 1.5 million Syrians on its soil after they fled the eight-year civil war next door, many living in informal settlements in the country’s east.
Nearly a million are registered as refugees with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
To discourage any permanent settlement, Lebanese authorities gave Syrians living in the region of Arsal until July 1 to demolish shelters made of anything but timber and plastic sheeting.
Families have been forced to tear down any small cinderblock room they may have built, with the army stepping in to destroy at least 20 remaining hard shelters as the deadline passed on Monday.
“This crackdown on housing code violations should be seen for what it is, which is illegitimate pressure on Syrian refugees to leave Lebanon,” HRW refugee rights director Bill Frelick said.
“Many of those affected have real reasons to fear returning to Syria, including arrests, torture and ill treatment by Syrian intelligence branches,” he said.
After several Russia-backed victories against opposition fighters and militants since 2015, the Damascus regime controls around 60 percent of Syria’s territory.
Young Syrian men in Lebanon have also told AFP they fear military conscription if they return.

HIGHLIGHTS

• To discourage any permanent settlement, Lebanese authorities gave Syrians living in the region of Arsal until July 1 to demolish shelters made of anything but timber and plastic sheeting.

• Families have been forced to tear down any small cinderblock room they may have built, with the army stepping in to destroy at least 20 remaining hard shelters.

Aids groups have estimated up to 15,000 people, including 7,500 children, to have been affected by the demolition order.
One family made to destroy their shelter last month told AFP they would not return to Syria as their Syrian home had been destroyed by war, leaving them instead to face another harsh winter in a tent.
Echoing similar warnings from other rights monitors, HRW said the demolitions were just one of several methods used to pressure Syrians into leaving Lebanon.
“They include ramped up arrests and deportations, closing of shops, and confiscation or destruction of unlicensed vehicles, on top of other long-standing restrictions, including curfews and evictions, and barriers to refugee education, legal residency, and work authorization,” Frelick said.
“Lebanon shouldn’t create pressures that cumulatively coerce refugees to return involuntarily in conditions that are not conducive to a safe and dignified return,” he said.
Lebanese politicians and part of the population have called for Syrian refugees to go home, blaming them for a string of economic woes in the country.
Syria’s war has killed 370,000 people and displaced millions at home and abroad since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 26 min 10 sec ago
0

Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.