Refugees in a border town in northeast Lebanon are returning to Syria due to the harsh conditions there. Human Rights Watch has found multiple rights violations taking place in the city, which is under strict military control.
The Lebanese city of Arsal lies in the northeastern part of the country and hosts around 60,000 Syrians as well as 38,000 Lebanese nationals. The city is under strict control by the Lebanese army, who have been found by Human Rights Watch (HRW) to have committed multiple human rights violations against refugees. The army started controlling the city in 2014 after the "Islamic State" (IS) tried to invade. HRW cites the "lack of widespread legal residency, restrictions on freedom of movement, and fear of seemingly random arrests during army raids" as being the main concerns of refugees in the city.
In September, HRW entered Arsal with permission from the Lebanese authorities and interviewed 19 Syrians about the problems there. Of them, nine of the 19 had no legal status whatsoever. HRW also said that aid groups estimate 70 to 80 percent of Syrians lack any legal status. Residency for Syrians means they can’t move due to fear of arrest, which means their access to work, health care, and birth and marriage registration are limited. Eight of the Syrians mentioned that either "they or an immediate family member had been arrested when trying to renew their residency and that authorities had detained children as young as nine."
One issue in Lebanon regarding refugees is refoulement, where a refugee is indirectly pressured to leave to their home country where were persecuted due to threats to their lives. Lebanon did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, but is legally bound to not return anyone to a country where they may face torture or ill-treatment. Lebanese President Michel Aoun in July pushed for a policy of safe, but not voluntary returns.
HRW has also decried the arrests made by the army, with over 350 Syrians being arrested in mass raids in June and four Syrians dying while in the custody of the military. Nadim Houry, terrorism and counterterrorism director at HRW, said, "Lebanon should ensure that Syrians are able to obtain legal residency and that security operations respect the safety and security of refugees living in Arsal."
Syrian refugees in Lebanon
According to the EU, there are more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. It is the country that has been hardest hit by the Syrian crisis, as proportionally the country itself only has 6 million people. According to the UNHCR, 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line. The country also doesn’t have any formal refugee camps, so the newcomers live in basic accomodations in cities like Arsal.
Some of the refugees from Syria were originally Palestinian. These are refugees twice over, because they have no nationality due to Palestine not being recognized as a state. They are not allowed to work in Lebanon and according to American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), only 6 percent of Palestinian refugees from Syria aged 15-18 are in school.