Palestinian refugees queue for winterization items at an aid distribution center in Jaraman refugee camp in Damascus in December 2013. (unrwa.org)
The Lebanese government deported approximately three dozen Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence in Syria back to the war-torn country on Sunday, “putting them at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch reported today.
The group added that Palestinians attempting to cross over the land border from Syria into Lebanon were arbitrarily denied entry by the Lebanese government.
The United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, stated today that it was “given assurances by the Lebanese authorities that these restrictions are temporary. We hope that they will be lifted within the next few days.”
Regarding the group who were deported over the weekend, Human Rights Watch reported:
Human Rights Watch spoke by phone on May 5 to two men who were part of a group of about three dozen people deported by Lebanese General Security on May 4. They and a third person had remained in the strip of territory between the Lebanese and Syrian border checkpoints at the Masnaa crossing for fear of what would happen to them if they reentered Syria. The rest of the group reentered Syria, where their fate is unknown.
The decision to deport the men followed their arrest at the Beirut airport on May 3 for allegedly attempting to leave the country using fraudulent visas. On May 3, Lebanon’s General Security issued a statement indicating that 49 Syrians and Palestinians from Syria had been stopped at the airport that day for using forged documents and that legal proceedings would be initiated against them.
Two of the deported Palestinians told Human Rights Watch that they were arrested at the airport in Beirut while attempting to travel to Libya and were transferred to the land border crossing with Syria without explanation.
“They didn’t give us any other option other than returning to Syria. We had women and children with us and one was pregnant,” one of the deportees, a 21-year-old from Yarmouk camp, which has been under siege since December 2012, told Human Rights Watch.
Approximately 18,000 civilians are currently trapped in Yarmouk, where dozens have died of starvation since Syrian government forces tightened the siege on the camp in July 2013.
More than half of the approximately 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been displaced by the ongoing violence, and an estimated 60,000 Palestinians from Syria have registered in Lebanon with UNRWA. Nearly half a million registered Palestinian refugees already reside in Lebanon, many living in poor conditions in overcrowded camps and without basic civil rights and access to public services.
Lebanon currently hosts an additional one million Syrian refugees, according to figures from the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
Policy of non-entry
Meanwhile, the government of Jordan has denied entry to Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria since mid-2012, eventually adopting and enforcing a policy of non-entry to all Palestinians, as Hanine Hassan reported for The Electronic Intifada earlier this year.
Jordanian authorities have been responsive toward Syrian refugees, granting them humanitarian services and allowing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to support them, whereas Palestinian refugees from Syria refugees are rarely eligible for such services.
Furthermore, the Jordanian government has been known to deport Palestinian refugees who have managed to enter Jordan, back to Syria, robbing them of their right to survival.
In its statement on the Lebanon deportations today, Human Rights Watch mentions that more than one hundred Palestinians have been forcibly returned from Jordan to Syria, including “women, children, and injured individuals,” and in one case, “a Palestinian was arrested in late 2012 at his home in Syria twenty days after he was forcibly returned from Jordan, and his body was later dumped on the street in front of his father’s house, showing bullet wounds and signs of torture, according to informed sources who asked not to be named.”
The war in Syria highlights the particular vulnerability of stateless Palestinian refugees, as Anne Irfan commented for The Electronic Intifada last year:
Once again, the Palestinians’ statelessness lies at the heart of the problem — with no government to represent or advocate for them, they are reliant on the goodwill of other states, for whom they are rarely the priority, or on UNRWA, which has been running on a deficit for the last three decades. As the agency is almost entirely dependent on contributions from donor states, it cannot provide the robust representation so sorely needed.
This crisis is ultimately central to the Palestinian struggle. The flight of Palestinian refugees from Syria can be best understood within the wider context of ongoing Palestinian exile, displacement and insecurity.
The dire consequences of the Syrian war have highlighted the Palestinians’ vulnerable position and underlined the precariousness that characterizes their situation across the region. The Palestinians of Syria and Lebanon will only realize all their rights when Palestine itself is truly free.