Lebanon 'expels' Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria

A Palestinian refugee in Damascus (5 May 2014) HRW says that Palestinians forced to go back to Lebanon are at "grave risk"

Lebanon has been forcibly returning dozens of Palestinian refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, activists say.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa) expressed concern at the deportation of 41 over the weekend.

A spokesman said it had been given assurances by Lebanese officials that the restrictions were only temporary.

Human Rights Watch said Lebanon was turning people back without adequately considering the dangers they faced.

The policy violated the international principle of "non-refoulement", which forbids states from returning refugees and asylum seekers to place where their lives or freedom would be in threatened, it warned.

'Mishandling the situation'

Human Rights Watch said it had spoken to two men who were part of a group of about three dozen people deported by Lebanese General Security on Sunday.

They and a third person had remained in a strip of territory between the Lebanese and Syrian border checkpoints at the Masnaa crossing for fear of what would happen to them if they re-entered Syria, it added. The rest of the group re-entered Syria, where their fate was unknown.

Palestinians in Yarmouk refugee camp (04/05/14) Palestinian refugee camps in Syria have been devastated by the fighting

The decision to deport the men followed their arrest at Beirut airport on Saturday for allegedly attempting to leave the country using fraudulent visas, HRW said.

Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness said it was concerned about the "increased restrictions", and was monitoring the situation on the Lebanese-Syrian border carefully.

The agency recognised that Lebanon had given refuge to more than a million people from Syria over the past three years, including about 50,000 Palestinians, and that Lebanon was in need of increased assistance from the international community, Mr Gunness added.

"However, we underscore the position of the [UN] Security Council which has 'affirmed the importance of the principle of non-refoulement' and 'recalled its encouragement to countries neighbouring Syria to protect all people fleeing the violence in Syria, including Palestinians'."

A Lebanese government source told the AFP news agency that there was no blanket ban on the entry of Palestinian refugees from Syria, but that it preferred them to stay where they had registered.

"The Lebanese government is bearing an incomparable burden with the Syrian refugees crossing its borders, but blocking Palestinians from Syria is mishandling the situation," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

"Palestinians are among the most vulnerable people in the Syria conflict, and like Syrian nationals are at risk of both generalised violence and targeted attacks."

Palestinian refugee camps, including those in Damascus, Aleppo and Deraa, had been attacked by both government and rebel forces, resulting in numerous fatalities, HRW said.

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