Lebanon's General Security department has forcibly deported 41 Palestinian refugees back to Syria, despite the fact that they had entered the country legally.
The move on May 4 ran counter to an earlier decision by the Lebanese government to not deport any refugee back to Syria under any circumstances. Lebanese authorities pointed out that the arrests and the following deportation was due to the fact that the detainees held forged visas to Libya. After long hours of interrogation at Beirut International Airport, a decision was made to deport the group.
Human rights activists argue that the move was not an isolated incident, but rather is part of a larger campaign by the Lebanese government targeting Palestinian refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict, who now number 50,000 in Lebanon.
"This has been an ongoing campaign against Palestinians from Syria fleeing to Lebanon," Metwali Abu Nasser, a journalist and scriptwriter who fled Yarmouk camp last year, told Al Jazeera.
Abu Nasser explained that the deportation of Palestinian refugees "should be seen in light of the harsh practises the Lebanese government deploys against Palestinians, whether it is those who are residents of Lebanon or those fleeing from Syria".
Repeated attempts by Al Jazeera to contact the Lebanese government for a statement were unanswered.
In a report issued by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday, Joe Stork, deputy director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, wrote that "the Lebanese government is bearing an incomparable burden with the Syrian refugees crossing its borders, but blocking Palestinians from Syria is mishandling the situation".
"Palestinians are among the most vulnerable people in the Syria conflict, and like Syrian nationals are at risk of both generalised violence and targeted attacks," Stork's statement read.
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Abdelrahman, 26, a Palestinian refugee who fled Syria 18 months ago and now resides in Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, told Al Jazeera: "When we, Palestinians from Syria, enter Lebanon as refugees, we are treated at the border as if we were coming for tourism."
Upon arrival from Syria, Palestinians crossing the border are made to pay a 25,000LL ($17) entry fee, which is only valid for a one week stay. The Lebanese General Security charges 350,000 LL ($230) per person for a residency permit that is subject to renewal every three months.
"Palestinians who do not have money to pay for steep renewal fees of their residency are forced to return to Syria, or stay and risk being arrested."
The deportation decision was followed by another decision by the Lebanese General Security to ban the entry of Palestinians fleeing Syria to Lebanon. Many Palestinian families stranded at the Lebanese Masna’a border crossing were refused entry under the pretext that they lacked prior approval by the Lebanese General Security.
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Forced deportation of refugees is an internationally recognised human rights violation. "Refugees have the right to protection; forced deportation is a violation of that right," a spokeswoman for Frontiers, a Lebanon-based NGO defending rights and public freedom, told Al Jazeera. "In this case, the 41 refugees who were deported did not get a fair trial to establish if they were guilty or not."
"It is important that the report of their arrest and interrogation be made public so we can find out what went wrong and the reasons and proportionality for giving such a verdict to the alleged crime. The deportation might resonate as an intimidation to others since the Lebanese government has promised not to deport any refugees back to Syria," Frontiers' spokeswoman added.
Syria's neighbouring countries have shut their doors in the face of Palestinians fleeing the conflict. The recent deportations are already increasing the anxiety among one million refugees who fled war-ravaged Syria to take shelter in Lebanon.
Concerned human rights groups such as HRW released statements condemning the deportation, while Frontiers urged "the Lebanese government to put pressure on the international community to fulfill their promises and obligations towards the refugees".