BEIRUT (AP) — Lawyers of six Syrian refugees arrested in Lebanon said on Sunday that the country's security services have given them a 24-hour ultimatum — either leave Lebanon to a third country or be deported to Syria, the war-ravaged country they fled.
Lawyer Mohammed Sablouh said the move is highly unusual, is a violation of Lebanon’s international obligations and laws, and seriously endangers the men’s lives.
The authorities “know very well that since the (men) were arrested outside the embassy, they are therefore wanted by the Syrian regime, and there is a really high probability they would be tortured or in grave danger,” Sablouh told The Associated Press. “This is a violation of the anti-torture convention and Lebanese laws.”
There was no immediate comment from Lebanese security, and it is not immediately clear who is responsible for the decision that came 10 days after the men's arrest, and without a court ruling.
The threat of deportation is particularly concerning given that violence has recently resumed in the hometown of most of the arrested Syrians.
Five of the men are from the southern province of Daraa, where clashes have recently erupted between government and allied forces and opposition gunmen, wrecking a three-year old Russian-negotiated truce.
According to Lebanese law, the men should be put on trial, and could be either sentenced to prison or sent home after serving their sentences.
Lebanon is home to over 1 million Syrian refugees, who now make up more than a quarter of the population.
In Spring of 2019, Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council, a government body in charge of national security and headed by the President, decided to deport refugees who entered Lebanon “illegally” after April 2019 — a clear violation of international laws. Amnesty International said since then and up until August of the same year, nearly 2,500 Syrians were forcibly deported back to Syria. Deportations slowed down during the pandemic restrictions of 2020, according to local monitors.
Sablouh said the lawyers will appeal to prosecutors on Monday for an immediate stay of the order.
The men were arrested in the last week of August, first by the Lebanese army, for entering the country illegally. They were picked up outside the Syrian embassy where they were to be issued passports.
Four days later, they were transferred to the custody of general security. On Thursday, Amnesty International urged authorities against deporting the men, saying it would endanger their lives and calling for their release, or sending them to trial.
"Arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture remain rife in Syria, and armed hostilities in some parts of the country have intensified significantly,” said Lynn Maalouf, regional deputy director for Amnesty International. “No part of Syria is safe for returns and these men must be protected.”
The ultimatum was made by telephone to lawyer Jihad Deeb, who represents five of the six men, on Sunday — a weekend day making the ultimatum even more impossible to meet. Meanwhile, the passports of the men were still with the Syrian embassy.
The caller said the men have 24 hours to produce passports and visas to a third country, or they will be deported.
Deeb said three of the men were members of the opposition in Daraa, who had reached a settlement with the Syrian government there, but escaped nearly three weeks ago when they were asked to fight against other opposition members. “They told me: "Ustaz (Mr.), please let them sentence us to death in Lebanon, but not send us back to the Syrian regime," Deeb said.