Syrian children play outside their family's tent

Syrian children play outside their family's tent at a refugee camp set up on the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Miniara, in the northern Akkar region near the border with Syria, on May 20, 2024.

(Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images)

World Leaders Urged to Protect Syrian Refugees Amid Lebanon's Crackdown

"Lebanon's authorities must stop summarily deporting refugees to a place where they are at risk of violations, lift restrictions, and end their vitriolic campaign against refugees," said one Amnesty campaigner.

Amnesty International on Monday reiterated human rights groups' rising concerns about a Lebanese crackdown on Syrian refugees as the European Union hosted a conference in Brussels focused on "supporting the future of Syria and the region."

The conference comes at right-wing leaders in the E.U. campaign as anti-migrant ahead of the bloc's June elections and after European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen in early May announced a three-year, €1 billion ($1.06 billion) assistance package to support "the most vulnerable people in Lebanon, including refugees, internally displaced persons, and host communities," as well as "urgent domestic reforms" and "border and migration management."

The package was seen as part of the E.U.'s efforts to limit migration to Europe, as refugees leave Lebanon and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Cyprus and Italy—journeys that often involve crowded, unsafe vessels and lead to deaths.

"Once again, President Von Der Leyen has put her desire to curb the flow of refugees at any cost into Europe before the E.U.'s obligations to protect refugees fleeing conflict or persecution," Aya Majzoub, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said Monday.

"This appears to have emboldened Lebanese authorities to intensify their ruthless campaign targeting refugees with hateful discourse, forced deportations, and stifling measures on residency and labor," she continued. "Yet, Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita and has struggled to assist refugees amid an acute economic crisis."

"I swear if there is a safe zone in Syria, I would've been the first to return... The regime isn't safe for us."

Less than a week after the E.U. aid package was revealed, Amnesty explained, "the Lebanese General Security announced sweeping new measures against Syrian refugees including restrictions on their ability to obtain residency permits and work in the country, and has stepped up raids, collective evictions, arrests, and deportations."

Rights groups in the region and around the world have condemned the Lebanese moves and stressed that they, along with the United Nations and E.U., have concluded that Syria remains unsafe for refugees—a sentiment echoed by displaced Syrians.

"I swear if there is a safe zone in Syria, I would've been the first to return! Safe, as in not under the control of the [Syrian] regime. The regime isn't safe for us," one Syrian mother told Amnesty, referring to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

"Many like us, if they're granted the capacity to return to the regions not controlled by the regime, they run back, without the need for organized return trips! If I had 1% hope that my husband and I will be safe upon return, I swear we wouldn't stay in such harsh conditions here," added the mother, who requested anonymity for safety reasons.

Alia, another Syrian mother now living in Lebanon, told the BBC that "we live in constant fear and anxiety... Every evening when my son comes back home, his youngest brother hugs him—relieved that he hasn't been arrested."

"I started overhearing people at places like the supermarket or the street saying: 'Look at the Syrians. They are living the good life while we can't afford anything in our own country,'" Alia said. "If only they knew what kind of life we live."

Amnesty's Majzoub argued Monday that "as a show of solidarity, European states should increase the number of resettlements to European countries of Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon."

"Donors at the annual humanitarian conference for Syria and refugee host countries must press the Lebanese authorities to immediately cease their unprecedented crackdown on Syrian refugees and lift abusive measures aimed at pressuring them to leave the country despite the well-documented risks they could face upon their return," she said.

"Human rights organizations unanimously agree: No part of Syria is safe for refugee returns," Majzoub added. "Lebanon's authorities must stop summarily deporting refugees to a place where they are at risk of violations, lift restrictions, and end their vitriolic campaign against refugees. E.U. countries similarly have a legal and moral obligation to refrain from forcibly turning back boats carrying migrants to Lebanon."

Over the past 13 years, Syria's civil war has forced millions to flee their homes. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that as of March, 7.2 million Syrians were internally displaced and over five million had fled to countries including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.

"We're going to be sending a very clear message from Jordan as a host country that we feel that refugees are being abandoned," the Jordanian foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, told reporters while arriving in Brussels for the conference, according toReuters. "Host countries are being abandoned."

With wars raging in Ukraine, Sudan, and the Gaza Strip, U.N. agencies and international humanitarian groups are also stretched thin and having a hard time providing adequate assistance to civilians within Syria. As The Associated Pressreported Sunday:

Living in a tent in rebel-held northwestern Syria, Rudaina al-Salim and her family struggle to find enough water for drinking and other basic needs such as cooking and washing. Their encampment north of the city of Idlib hasn't seen any aid in six months.

"We used to get food aid, hygiene items," said the mother of four. "Now we haven't had much in a while."

"We have moved from assisting 5.5 million a year to about 1.5 million people in Syria," Carl Skau, the U.N. World Food Program's deputy executive director, told the AP. "When I look across the world, this is the (aid) program that has shrunk the most in the shortest period for time."

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