The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) is deeply concerned by the decisions of several Arab capitals to forcibly return Palestinians to Syria. This new policy would only serve to further destabilize a region torn apart by armed conflicts of internal and international character.
Since the start of the uprising turned civil war in Syria in 2011 several Arab countries including Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia have taken arbitrary measures to bar Palestinians from Syria from entering their territories. Palestinians are amongst the most vulnerable targets in the ongoing conflict in Syria. In May 2014, the Lebanese Ministry of Interior issued a new set of criteria regulating the inflow of Palestinian refugees from Syria into the country. This decision came after 49 Palestinian and Syrian refugees were arrested at Beirut international airport, and when 40 of them, believed to have been Palestinians, were deported back to Syria on May 4, 2014, for allegedly carrying forged passports. The decision to bar Palestinian refugees from Syria from entering Lebanon constitutes a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the returning of persons to a country where they face the threat of serious human rights violations. The principle stems not only from the 1951 Refugee Convention – to which Lebanon is not a party – but also from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and customary international law, to which Lebanon is bound. Violation of the principle is a serious violation of these obligations.
The new rules issued by the Lebanese Interior Ministry specifically targeting Palestinians from Syria constitute a blatant case of discrimination against a vulnerable group that has already been marginalized in Syria. By issuing such regulations, the Lebanese government has failed to take into account the very concrete dangers these refugees will face upon being forced to go back to Syria.
On May 3, Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri International Airport issued a statement preventing all airlines from transporting Palestinian refugees from Syria into Lebanon. The new set of criteria issued by the Lebanese Ministry of Interior includes an obligation for Palestinian refugees from Syria to possess an entry permit approved by the General Directorate of General Security, a residency of one to three years, or a Lebanese exit and return permit. Palestinian Syrians who wish to travel from Beirut international airport may be given a crossing permit valid for only a day and may travel provided they have the appropriate travel documents and permits. However, the Lebanese state reserves the right to deny Palestinian Syrians the right to enter Lebanon. In addition, a new rule states that Palestinians who already have a nine-month residency permit may be given a three-month extension to make it last for a year. However,such residency permits come at the prohibitive cost of 300,000LL (about 200 USD). These new set of rules have been deemed temporary, but no time frame during which they will be applicable has been released by the government.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNRWA), has also expressed concern over the increased Lebanese restrictions and continues to closely monitor the Masnaa border, urging the Lebanese government to lift these regulations in the next few days.
Lebanon is not the only country violating the rights of Palestinians coming from Syria. Palestinians coming from Syria have also been arrested, detained, and deported back to Syria by Egyptian authorities. Regulations such as the need to obtain a visa and security clearance prior to entering the country and practices such as arresting Syrian refugees and Palestinian Syrians for ‘holding invalid residency permits’ violate the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, which Egypt acceded to in 1981, as well as Egypt’s human rights obligations.
As of March 2014, Jordan has also deported over 100 Palestinians from Syria, and has implemented policies rendering Palestinians refugees from Syria already in the country illegal.
Tunisia has also recently come under criticism for detaining 30 Palestinian refugees from Syria, including 3 children, at Carthage airport and for deporting 15 Palestinians to Lebanon, where they face being sent back to Syria. These actions not only violate international refugee law, but also violate Tunisia’s new constitution that grants the right to asylum.
CIHRS understands the difficulty that Lebanon and other neighbouring countries face with sustaining and ensuring the security and safety of refugees coming from Syria. Nevertheless, there is no legitimate excuse to expose hundreds of women and men including children to arbitrary decisions that could hinder their right to life and physical safety. Donor countries should also ensure that Lebanon and other neighbouring countries have the required abilities to manage the needs of asylum seekers in a dignified manner. Failure to do so would further complicate the conflict in Syria and its spill over effects on the entire region.
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