Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: Detained and Tortured After 10 Years of Civil War

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As the 10th anniversary of Syria’s conflict passes, refugees in Lebanon are facing discrimination, unlawful detainment and torture while they’re fighting to survive in the face of extreme poverty.

The decade old civil war has displaced 6.6m people from the country in the largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen.

Approximately 5.5m of those displaced from Syria are refugees, mainly fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Lebanon.

While Syrian refugees have faced difficulty in many countries throughout the past decade, Lebanon has been the subject of recent scrutiny from refugee and human rights organisations as 90% of the 1.5m Syrian refugees in the country now live in extreme poverty.

Syrian Refugees Camp at Bekaa Valley, Lebanon [Ahmad Zikri, Shutterstock]

Lebanese authorities have faced concerns in the international community over human rights violations, after Syrian refugees reported cases of detentions and torture to force confessions against terrorism charges.

Allegations state that Lebanon is setting the parameters to break international law by forcefully deporting refugees back to Syria without the means to sustain themselves.

What caused Syria’s conflict?

When security forces opened fire at a 2011 pro-democracy protest, nationwide protests sparked calling for the resignation of President Assad. Assad’s government attempted to use force in response, killing dozens of protestors and spurring on the opposition in the wake of ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

Violence between the government and rebels soon turned into a civil war. By 2013 the conflict had reached the capital Damascus and Aleppo, the second-largest city.

Conflict has not only drawn in the government, but has become more complex due to the rise of ISIS in the region. Ethnic groups, like the majority Sunni Muslim population were pitched against Assad’s Shia Muslim Alawite sect.

Russia also became involved after a few years as an official supporter of the Assad government. Putin’s government has sent military forces into the country and carried out airstrikes allegedly targeting hospitals and medical facilities.

Poverty’s effect on refugees

While the UNHCR and Lebanese authorities register many Syrians in Lebanon as refugees, it does not make them eligible for assistance or entitlement from the government. Many live in urban areas and informal settlements with only a minority living in designated refugee camps.

The needs and finances of Syrian refugees are met by the international community through programmes such as the UNHCR’s cash assistance programme and the WFP food voucher program.

Unfortunately, these programmes are not sustainable in the long term because they rely on voluntary donations. Furthermore, the environment social protection provides does not offer opportunities for the refugees to transition into the workplace.

They are unable to enter the labour market and become self-reliant, restricting the necessary economic opportunities to pull them out of extreme poverty.

Due to the effects of protracted warfare, Syria is currently facing an economic crisis. The nation’s currency, the lira, has all but collapsed and is worth so little that the government has had to rely on wealthy businessmen to fund the state.

Syrian people are under financial stress to the point they can’t afford basic necessities. The unemployment rate in the country has grown each year, with people struggling to afford the basics to live. For Syrians to have any chance of rebuilding their lives, they must first have the resources and means to do so.

Ayaki Ito, UNHCR representative in Lebanon, said in a press release: ‘We know from experience, from regular intention surveys with the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and from research done on displacement that it is by addressing the factors that the refugees themselves say are important for their ability to return that you actually work towards and support returns.

‘In addition, refugees who have been able to attend school and develop their skills and human capital during their years in exile have a stronger capacity to return home and rebuild their life in a war-torn country, than refugees who are impoverished and destitute.’

However, treatment by Lebanese authorities shows the dangers and rights violations Syrian refugees face, as the public attention on the conflict and it’s effects wanes.

Lebanon’s Treatment of Syrian Refugees

Amnesty International reported this week that Lebanese military intelligence officers have allegedly tortured Syrian refugees and committed other human rights violations against them.

Hundreds of Syrian men, women, and children have suffered arbitrary detention, torture, and unfair trials on trumped-up charges at the hands of Lebanon’s security forces.

Reports describe Syrian refugees being beaten with metal sticks and being hung upside down [Jawad Morad, Amnesty International]

Ahmed who was accused of being part of a terrorist group told Amnesty International how he was tortured by interrogators. ‘They beat me saying that I was a terrorist and I had to die. I had blood streaming out of my mouth.’

Another Syrian refugee in the report spoke of the discrimination involved in Lebanon’s legal process, with one interrogator allegedly telling him: ‘You’re Syrian, don’t even think you’re getting here without a charge.’

Under Lebanese law, all refugees who have been imprisoned are liable for a deportation order. Many lawyers representing Syrian refugees in Lebanon told Amnesty international how a lot of their clients received deportation orders and, in one case, disappeared after being given to General Security. 

Some of the refugees were deported back to Syria after being imprisoned, however, this violates international law under the non-refoulment principle which states people shouldn’t be sent to a place where they are at serious risk of danger, even criminals who have lost refugee protection.

Amnesty International has suggested in its report that the Lebanese government immediately end its torture and ill-treatment of Syrian refugees and implement the 2017 Anti-torture Law which was passed to protect people in Lebanon from torture at the hands of any authorities.

UNHCR has also encouraged all decision-makers and actors to come together and commit to fostering support for Syrian refugees so they can economically support their futures with sustainable long-term solutions.

[Header image: NVM Design, Shutterstock]
Written by
Kieran Isgin