Syrian refugees gather as they wait to leave Beirut back to Syria, at the Bourj Hammoud area, northern Beirut, Lebanon, 8 April 2019 | EPA/Nabil Mounzer
Syrian refugees gather as they wait to leave Beirut back to Syria, at the Bourj Hammoud area, northern Beirut, Lebanon, 8 April 2019 | EPA/Nabil Mounzer

Lebanon is continuing to send back small groups of refugees to Syria. In the past 24 hours, dozens of refugees who had fled the war in Syria have been returned from different parts of Lebanon.

Lebanon has hosted about one million refugees since the start of the war in 2011. The local population is four million.

Lebanon's main government agency, the General Security, has been in charge of the repatriation of Syrian nationals since the end of 2017. It coordinates with the Syrian government and Lebanese pro-Iranian party-militia Hezbollah. Hezbollah militants have been in Syria since 2012 to support the regime of President Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran and Russia. 

The majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in the northern part of the country, in the area of Tripoli and Akkar, in the eastern Bekaa valley, where Hezbollah is present. Since the 1980s, the movement has based its legitimacy as a militia and political party on the rhetoric of "resistance" against Israel. 

172,000 Syrians have gone back home since December 2017

172,000 Syrians have traveled back to Syria since December 2017, according to the General Security. Over 900,000 Syrian refugees, however, have been registered by UN agencies in Lebanon. 

The United Nations and the European Union, the main providers of humanitarian aid in Lebanon, are asking for the "voluntary" return of Syrians, who should only be heading to "safe" areas. The General Security agency, headed by General Abbas Ibrahim, one of Lebanon's most influential personalities considered close to Hezbollah, has maintained that this is the case. Together with the government and presidency, both close to the Syrian regime, Ibrahim has insisted that Syrians are being repatriated on a "voluntary" basis to "safe" areas. 

Humanitarian agencies report violations 

Nearly every month, international and Lebanese humanitarian organizations have denounced violations committed by Lebanon's local authorities and the Lebanese army against refugees. Many have been forcibly evicted from camps and civilians have not been assigned to another area, they say. Several refugees are apprehended because they don't have valid documents and the majority of them have no right to medical treatment. Many children and teens cannot attend Lebanese schools. 

50 Syrians have travelled to Italy from Lebanon 

Two weeks ago, 50 Syrians traveled from Lebanon to Italy as part of humanitarian corridors program organized by the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, the Sant'Egidio community, the Waldensian community and the Italian government. An estimated 1,500 Syrian refugees have traveled to Italy since 2016 out of an estimated total of 2,000.

The UN has said that a total of 944,613 Syrian refugees are currently living in Lebanon. According to recent surveys quoted by Lebanese media, the majority of them don't think they could go back to Syria. "Safety" for those polled was not only determined by the lack of war but also by housing, essential services and the prospect of a dignified life "for us and our children", according to the study.

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