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Lebanon must address surge in violence against Syrian refugees

30 April 2024

Minority Rights Group strongly condemns an unprecedented surge in violence targeting Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Amid a wave of xenophobic hatred and vigilante violence, Syrian refugees have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture and deportations by the Lebanese Army and General Security Directorate. The Lebanese government must act now to ensure their ongoing safety.

Lebanon must immediately adhere to the principle of non-refoulement, to which it has committed by signing various international legal texts including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In repeatedly deporting Syrian refugees facing threats to their lives and freedom in Syria, Lebanon’s repeated breaches of this vital principle constitute violations of international law.

It is also imperative that Lebanon uphold its obligations, also enshrined by international law, to protect the lives, rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their nationality and status. It must take immediate actions to address the escalating violence and discrimination against Syrian refugees.

After the recent killing of a local political official, Lebanese authorities identified the suspects as Syrian nationals, leading to a dangerous wave of violence against Syrian refugees. Calls for Syrians to leave their homes, or the areas where they are living, are widespread. Many citizens have taken matters into their own hands, resorting to acts of extreme violence including burning down refugee camps. Countless Syrian refugees have been forced to flee their homes, with some falling victim to abduction, torture and even death at the hands of vigilante gangs.

Many local authorities have imposed illegal discriminative curfews against Syrian refugees and increased the number of security checkpoints, violating Syrians’ right to freedom of movement. The national government has not intervened but asked these municipalities to redouble their discriminatory efforts. Meanwhile, a disturbing new xenophobic campaign has emerged in Lebanon. TV advertisements and billboards feature a depiction of a Syrian child and the slogan ‘Undo the Damage’, framing Syrian refuges as responsible for the economic challenges facing the country, a position widely echoed by Lebanese politicians.  

Anti-Syrian sentiments in Lebanon go far back. The prolonged complicity of the Lebanese state and mainstream media in misinformation about and incitement against Syrian refugees has created an environment where civilian gangs can threaten and harm Syrians with impunity. An estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon. They have a right to live in safety and security, which the Lebanese government must ensure rather than violate.

Featured image: A Syrian family sits in front of their tent at a refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. 13 June 2023. Credit: Bilal Hussein/Associated Press/Alamy Stock Photo.