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.


Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 13 July 2020

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

  • Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines
  • In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment

CAIRO: Their accounts are similar. The girls and women describe meeting the young man — a former student at Egypt’s most elite university — in person and online, followed by deceit, then escalating sexual harassment, assault, blackmail or rape.
Some were minors when the alleged crimes took place. In all, more than 100 accusers have emerged online in the past two weeks.
It’s resulted in a new #MeToo firestorm on social media, and the arrest of the suspect last week from his home in a gated community outside Cairo.
Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines; many in Egypt have previously portrayed harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Women’s rights champions hope the authorities’ swift response signals change in how Egyptian society handles accusations of sexual assault.
“What’s before this case is totally different from what’s after,” said Nihad Abuel-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victim of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor’s officer said the accused man acknowledged he blackmailed at least six girls, saying he would send sensitive photos of them to their families if they cut ties. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact him or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt’s most prominent TV host, said in a recent episode that he’d spoken with the young man’s father, who occupies a high-ranking position at a telecommunication company. He said his son dismissed the allegations.
At least 10 women have officially reported their claims, according to Abuel-Komsan, of the women’s rights center. Activists also set up the Instagram account @assaultpolice to collect allegations, said Sabah Khodir, a US-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 accounts.
“We are demanding to be listened to … We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change,” she said.
A court has ordered the accused to remain in custody pending an investigation into an array of accusations that include attempted rape, blackmail and indecent assault, according to a five-page statement by the public prosecutor. In the same statement, the prosecutor urged more alleged victims to come forward.
Last week, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi moved to amend the country’s criminal law to increase protections for the identities of sexual assault victims, which activists have welcomed. The amendment still needs parliamentary approval and El-Sisi’s signature to be made law.
The allegations against the student cover a period of at least three years.
Many of the anonymous accounts appear to be from fellow students at the American International School, one of the country’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo, which school officials said the accused left in 2018. It would appear that he then enrolled at the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program last year.
In February, he spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus, but the school expelled him after an accusation of online harassment that was subsequently proved false, said Claire Basterfield, a spokesperson for the EUBS. The school has filed a 54-page criminal complaint with the Spanish police, seeking further investigation into his actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said the university has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment, but that he would not comment on an ongoing case.
According to accusations posted on social media in the past two weeks, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs. He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them to have sex with him. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
In some cases, he “attracted their sympathy by claiming he was going through a crisis,” then lured them to his home in an upscale compound where he sexually assaulted them, the prosecutor’s statement alleged.
In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment. During and after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, women were frequently harassed, groped — and in some cases, beaten and sexually assaulted — during mass protests.
This time, there are signs of wider ripples throughout the society. The current series of complaints has prompted Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, to speak out on sexual harassment and assault, even challenging the widely held belief that a woman is at fault if her clothing is less than modest. It’s a departure from the norm for the conservative Muslim majority country where most women wear headscarves.
There are also other corners where accusations of sexual harassment are emerging, such as in civil society groups and businesses.
Two rights groups said they fired one employee and suspended another, and opened investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made public. Authorities also detained a prominent publisher over the weekend after a poet filed a complaint with the Cairo police, accusing him of sexually harassing her, the state-run Al-Ahram reported. The publisher denied the allegations in a Facebook posting. He was released late Sunday on 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($313) in bail, pending an investigation.
The recent cases — reaching into the Egyptian elite — have “refuted all previous arguments and justifications for harassment, from poverty to illiteracy and things like that,” Abuel-Komsan said.