Statement Regarding the Deportation of Refugees to Syria from Lebanon
Statement from Save the Children, Norwegian People's Aid, Action Against Hunger, and WeWorld-GVC Regarding the Deportation of Refugees to Syria from Lebanon
In response to credible reports that Syrian refugees, including children, are being deported to Syria in the absence of due process and legal safeguards, we are concerned that the deportation of refugees from Lebanon to Syria could violate the international legal principle of non-refoulement. We are deeply concerned about the safety of those refugees who have been deported and the impact such measures have on children separated from their parents.
Despite the commitment made in 2012 by the Government of Lebanon to respect the principle of non-refoulement, the Higher Defense Council on 14 April 2019 has ordered that any Syrian who enters Lebanon through irregular means after 24 April 2019 will be handed over to the Syrian authorities without following due process. Without essential judicial safeguards, this order and the ongoing deportation of Syrians, runs a significant risk of being non-compliant with the principle of non-refoulement.
The refugees being sent back are mostly men, with some of them having left families in Lebanon. In one instance documented by aid organisations, a Syrian refugee was arrested at a checkpoint in Lebanon due to lack of residency before he was deported to Syria. In spite of holding a valid residency, his wife was also forced to return with their seven-month- old child. This is not an exceptional case, as many refugees report being detained and deported within four hours.
The absence of due process and judicial safeguards, such as a fair trial, creates a very real risk that refugees are being forcibly returned to Syria in contravention of Lebanese national laws, Lebanese case law, and Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Furthermore, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is not being granted regular access to all Syrians being detained for deportation, and therefore would not be able to assess whether a case would amount to a violation of the principle of non-refoulement. The principle of non-refoulement applies regardless of whether the individual has been formally documented as a “refugee”.
Given Lebanon’s obligations under international law, constitutional commitments and domestic legal provisions that prescribe due process in deportation cases, the Government of Lebanon needs to demonstrate that it is respecting its own legal processes alongside the principle of non-refoulement.
Accordingly, we call upon:
1) The Government of Lebanon, in line with Lebanese law, to halt any deportation of Syrians without due process, to ensure legal safeguards for refugees, and in particular, to guarantee that any deportation orders are made by a competent judicial authority and with the legal assistance of the United Nations.
2) UNHCR to exercise their mandate to intervene on behalf of refugees detained and at risk of deportation and ensure immediate access to them in order to provide them with timely and adequate support.
3) United Nations agencies and the broader international community to provide the legal and material assistance to Lebanese authorities, including providing training to security and border services on their non-refoulement obligations and the Government of Lebanon to permit joint border and airport monitoring with UNHCR and humanitarian actors.
The principle of non-refoulement is accepted as international customary law, meaning that even non-signatories are bound by this article, as defined according to Article 33 of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.