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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Can AANES implement its initiative to host Syrian refugees?

Displaced Syrians prepare to leave Lebanon towards Syrian territory through the Wadi Hamid crossing in Arsal on October 26, 2022; Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Syrian refugees in Lebanon face real dangers due to the organized hate campaigns against them which expose them to racial discrimination measures and the risks of forced deportation to the Syria under Assad control where they will definitely face the real possibility of persecution and torture.

Even though Lebanese authorities have carried out many forcible deportations of dissident Syrian officers and activists over the past years (handing them over to their inevitable fate at the hands of the Syrian intelligence services), since the beginning of last April the Lebanese army has been carrying out raids on the homes of Syrian refugees all over Lebanon, including in Mount Lebanon, Jounieh, Qob Elias, and Bourj Hammoud. Most of the Syrians whose homes were raided were immediately deported. Many of those forcibly returned are registered with, or known to, the UNHCR. They have not been given an opportunity to speak to a lawyer or the UNHCR, and have been denied the right to challenge their deportation and defend their right to protection.

the Lebanese authorities deliberately used the refugees as a scapegoat to cover up their failure, forcibly removing hundreds of refugees from their beds in the early hours of the morning and handing them over to the Syrian authority from which they originally fled

Nineteen local and international human rights organizations have said that Lebanese authorities are responsible for mismanaging the economic crisis in the country which has caused the impoverishment of millions and deprived them of their rights. Instead of adopting much-needed reforms, the Lebanese authorities deliberately used the refugees as a scapegoat to cover up their failure, forcibly removing hundreds of refugees from their beds in the early hours of the morning and handing them over to the Syrian authority from which they originally fled. Some of them were arrested, or simply disappeared, immediately after their return to Syria.

The deportations were accompanied by other measures aimed at forcing Syrian refugees to return to Syria as several municipalities across Lebanon have imposed strict curfews on Syrians and prevented them from renting homes. The pressure and hostility towards refugees have been exacerbated by the alarming rise in anti-refugee rhetoric fueled by local authorities, political figures, and the media. Refugees reported that they are living in fear of deportation or attack, and many said they had not left their homes for weeks.

Many considered that the deportation of Syrians from Lebanon to Syria would mean execution for them and described the campaign of arrests carried out by the Lebanese army against them as a crime

Lebanon is a party to the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which requires that no person at risk of torture be returned or extradited to his country, and to the principle of nonrefoulement guaranteed in customary international law, which requires that no person be returned to a place where he might be exposed to the risk of persecution or other grave human rights violations. In addition, Lebanese law states that deportation decisions can only be issued by a judicial authority, or by a decision of the General Security Chief in exceptional cases and must be based on an individual assessment. But authorities are currently committing the most heinous of crimes by forcibly deporting hundreds of Syrian refugee families without due process. Consequently, with the inability of the international community to secure additional aid for Lebanon, and the inability of resettlement programs and alternative pathways to provide a safe haven for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the 1.5 million Syrian refugees on Lebanese soil will continue to suffer.

For their part, Syrian activists launched campaigns on social media under the hashtag #Save_Syrians_in_Lebanon calling for an end to the “illegal” deportations of Syrian refugees. Many considered that the deportation of Syrians from Lebanon to Syria would mean execution for them and described the campaign of arrests carried out by the Lebanese army against them as a crime.

In light of this reality, on May 1, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in the Al-Jazira region of northeast Syria, put forward an initiative saying that it is ready to receive Syrian refugees who suffer from a “very bad situation” in Lebanon and that its doors are open to all Syrians without discrimination as a humanitarian, moral and patriotic duty. It called for the need for the United Nations to provide aid and guarantees and appealed to it to play its responsible role in order to open a humanitarian corridor between Lebanon and its regions in order to facilitate the return of refugees.

Badran Chiya Kurd, the co-chair of the Department of External Relations in the AANES

The Syrian refugees in Lebanon praised the initiative announced by Badran Chiya Kurd, the co-chair of the Department of External Relations in the Autonomous Administration, describing it as humanitarian and patriotic, and stressed the need to expedite the implementation of this initiative and start transferring Syrian refugees to the regions of northern and eastern Syria.

Mrs. Sinam Mohamad, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) mission in Washington D.C., provided the White House with several written statements saying that there are no political goals behind this initiative, but rather it is purely humanitarian in nature and that the Autonomous Administration will prepare places for refugees and make arrangements to meet their needs until a good political solution can be achieved allowing them to return to their homes and cities safely.

Mrs. Sinem Muhammad, the head of the representative office of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in Washington

However, this initiative needs political, logistical, and financial support from international and regional organizations such as the United Nations and the League of Arab States, and from other entities such as the United States and Europe. The process of transferring tens of thousands of refugees from Lebanon to northeast Syria will require an avenue of safe passage, political and security guarantees, and equipment. It also will require immediate assistance for the Autonomous Administration to prepare suitable temporary camps and provide food and medical support during, and after, the operation. It will also require intervention and cooperation from UNHCR, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and the Lebanese Red Cross.

the role of Syrian pressure groups in the United States and Europe needs to come into play in order to prepare the groundwork for launching this project as soon as possible

And there is also a continuing need to support all relief organizations operating in Syria, including the Emirates Red Crescent which provided hundreds of tons of aid recently after the earthquake struck areas in northwest Syria, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center which provided generous aid intended to assist all Syrians affected by the earthquake.

In reality, the issue is bigger than that. This situation also requires a “political lever” and a follow-up committee. Here, the role of Syrian pressure groups in the United States and Europe needs to come into play in order to prepare the groundwork for launching this project as soon as possible because, with every day of delay, the fate of dozens of Syrians in Lebanon is at stake.

Abdulrahman Rabboa
Abdulrahman Rabboa
Syrian writer, editor and journalist; member of the Syrian Journalists Association (SJA); political and human rights activist

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