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Intensified deportation campaigns by Lebanon and Türkiye amid EU funding pledges

Intensified deportation campaigns by Lebanon and Türkiye amid EU funding pledges

Anti-refugee sentiment has been on the rise over the past few years, especially in Lebanon and Türkiye, which host the largest populations of Syrian refugees. Yet, April 2024 witnessed the start of unprecedented deportation campaigns which seemingly coincided with the Brussels VIII Conference which took place on May 27th. This annual international meeting, organized by the European Union, addresses the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, discusses the various issues neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees face, and presents funding opportunities for these host communities.


The current campaign against Syrian refugees in Lebanon and rising anti-refugee sentiment was arguably spurred by the April kidnapping and killing of Pascal Sleiman, an official with Lebanese Forces Party in Jbeil city, and demonstrated how quickly Lebanese civilians and politicians turn against the country’s refugee population. Upon the announcement by the Lebanese Armed Forces that the perpetrators were allegedly Syrian nationals, Syrian refugees faced a wave of public attacks by the party’s supporters, and calls for the deportation of Syrian refugees were widely documented in various Lebanese cities.

Lebanese authorities, including caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, then announced in April that the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon must be “limited,” and emphasized that the security forces need to strictly enforce Lebanese laws related to displaced Syrians in the country. This anti-refugee discourse significantly intensified prior to the Brussels VIII Conference and appears to reflect a political tactic to push international donors to direct stabilizing funds to Lebanon. SJAC has already documented this correlation in 2023, where it observed a similar pattern of intensified anti-refugee sentiment coinciding with the Brussels VII Conference.

As part of this campaign, on May 8, the Lebanese army conducted several raids on refugee camps in the Beqaa region, where tents were demolished, belongings were confiscated, and a number of Syrian refugees were arbitrarily arrested and faced possible deportation. Further, On May 9, the Lebanese General Security Directorate announced an unprecedented set of measures targeting Syrian refugees, including halting the issuance or renewal of residency permits based on housing leases or sponsorships. The General security also emphasized that citizens shall not employ, house, or provide accommodation to Syrians residing illegally in Lebanon, under the threat of administrative and judicial penalties. The statement further directed authorities to proceed with closing all institutions violating these guidelines, in addition to shops managed or invested by Syrian nationals, as they violate Lebanese Labor Law. Following the statement, raids by the General Security on businesses were documented across the country, and several Syrian-owned shops were closed.

In addition to forced deportation, Lebanese authorities also sponsor “voluntary returns,” such as the return of 330 refugees in May 2024. This repatriation framework relies on correspondence between Syrian and Lebanese authorities, where names of individuals who sign up for voluntary return are sent to the Syrian government for approval. However, the limited transparency of this procedure raises concern about the voluntary nature of this repatriation pathway. The anti-refugee climate in the country reinforces doubts as to whether individuals signing up for voluntary return were compelled to do so or based their decision on misguided information about the conditions in Syrian government-controlled areas, a concern documented by Amnesty International in 2022.

Among the populations targeted by the current deportation campaign are Syrian prisoners in Lebanon. In March, a Syrian inmate (al-Waer) was deported by the General Security Directorate after he served his sentence in Roumieh prison, in compliance with the Lebanese law that mandates deportation for Syrian nationals convicted of serious crimes. This incident led to four other Syrian inmates in Roumieh Prison, including al-Waer’s brothers, attempting to hang themselves for fear of deportation and potential imprisonment in Syria. Forcibly deported refugees face grave risks upon return, especially opposition activists and army defectors who are subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture, and other forms of abuse by the Syrian Government.

The current campaign by the Lebanese government mainly revolves around repatriation efforts which include involuntary deportation campaigns, raids, and discriminatory policies. While there is no record as to how many refugees were deported prior to the Brussels VIII Conference, the deportation campaign appeared to continue through April and May, after the conference but notably before the ministerial meeting where EU pledged funding to Syria and refugee host communities. According to Reuters the Lebanese Armed Forces deported more than 400 Syrian nationals in May. Additionally, a sourced reported to SJAC that around 100 Syrians were deported in a recent campaign through the Dabousieh border crossing near Homs. While ten elderly individuals were sent back to Lebanon, the remaining 90 were detained by Military Intelligence in Syria for interrogation upon entry. This practice is particularly alarming as returnees can be subjected to arbitrary detention and torture by different intelligence branches in the country. The continuation of deportations after the Brussels Conference raises concerns about the situation on the ground and the effectiveness of international discussions and pledges made during the conference since the pattern indicates that Lebanon intensified the deportation campaign in April and May to push the EU for refugee-related funds.

While Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, which are the primary international treaties governing the protection of refugees and the principle of non-refoulement, the state is bound by the principle of non-refoulement under customary international law and the prohibition to return or expel persons to a place where their life or liberty may be in danger. Also, as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), Lebanon is bound by Article 3 in the CAT which explicitly prohibits the return of any person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be subjected to torture. This reinforces Lebanon’s obligation not to deport Syrian refugees as sufficient credible sources demonstrate real risk of torture or ill-treatment for returnees.


In parallel to Lebanon’s deportation campaign, 100 Syrian refugees were recently deported from Türkiye to Syria. The deportations appear part of a systematic campaign that targets Syrian refugees throughout the country. Testimonies from Syrians collected by Enab Baladi showcase that authorities target refugees with “temporary protection” permits and deport them to Tel Abyad in northwest Syria through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing. Despite the Turkish government promoting Tel Abyad as a “safe zone”, the Turkish-controlled area of Tel Abyad suffers from dire humanitarian conditions. According to documentation by Human Rights Watch, returns to Tel Abyad are often conducted in a coercive and forcible nature.

Anti-refugee discourse and intensified restrictive policies in Türkiye usually coincide during elections, with presidential and municipal elections severely affecting Syrian refugees in the country. Activists argue that anti-refugee sentiment is projected universally across the Turkish political system with most parties supporting this platform. Media outlets reported an intensified campaign of deportation in April, where presumably 16,000 Syrian refugees were deported through multiple border crossings. Although there is no definitive proof, the Turkish government has shown a pattern of accelerated deportations prior to the Brussels Conference, where funding pledges generally benefit Türkiye as a host country. The country’s actions stand in stark contrast to international legal standards. The principle of non-refoulement, highlighted in the CAT and customary international law, prohibits the forced return of refugees to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened, which reinforces Türkiye’s legal responsibility to immediately halt the deportation campaign against Syrian refugees.

Amid intensified anti-refugee sentiment and repeated violations of the non-refoulement principle in Lebanon and Türkiye despite EU funding pledges to support refugees and host communities, the international donor community must ensure that any financial assistance to Lebanon and Türkiye is conditioned on the adherence to international laws prohibiting the forced return of refugees to places where they face persecution or danger. This must include adopting robust monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance. EU countries should increase pressure on Lebanon and Türkiye to halt deportation while approaching the concept of “voluntary” return in the two countries with the highest scrutiny.


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