Palestinian refugees from Syria - including pregnant women, children and women with infants – have been denied entry into Lebanon due to tightened border restrictions, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.
The briefing Denied refuge: Palestinians from Syria seeking safety in Lebanon highlights the desperate plight of families torn apart after falling foul of fluctuating border rules while trying to cross into Lebanon. In one of the most shocking cases a mother with a new-born baby was barred from entering Lebanon when she tried to join her husband and other five children.
“By denying entry to a mother and her new-born child, among others, the Lebanese authorities have displayed a chilling disregard for the rights of refugees who are fleeing a bloody conflict. Absolutely no-one seeking refuge from a conflict should be denied entry; by doing so Lebanon is flouting its obligations under international law,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights at Amnesty International.
Amnesty International’s research also found evidence of a policy to deny Palestinian refugees from Syria entry into Lebanon altogether – regardless of whether they meet the new conditions of entry. This evidence includes a leaked document, apparently from the security services, instructing airlines using the main Beirut airport not to transport any traveller who is a Palestinian refugee from Syria to Lebanon, regardless of the documents they may hold.
“The Lebanese authorities must immediately end the blatantly discriminatory policies towards Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria. While the influx of refugees has placed an immense strain on Lebanon’s resources, there is no excuse for abandoning Palestinian refugees who are seeking safety in Lebanon,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali.
Palestinian refugees from Syria have also faced serious restrictions on their ability to seek refuge in other countries neighbouring Syria. Since January 2013, the government of Jordan has barred them from entering that country, and in 2013 testimony from refugees indicated that it had become more difficult for Palestinian refugees from Syria to enter Turkey than Syrian nationals.
“Unfortunately the new restrictions in Lebanon are only the most recent example of policies that discriminate against Palestinian refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria”, said Sherif Elsayed–Ali.
Under Lebanon’s new conditions for entry, Palestinian refugees from Syria must show they meet certain conditions for temporary residence in Lebanon or are transiting through the country. In reality these conditions are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for refugees to meet.
The requirements which Palestinian refugees from Syria must meet in order to enter Lebanon do not apply to Syrians. Even prior to the recent changes, which took effect in May 2014, Palestinian refugees from Syria faced different conditions for entry.
In June 2014 the Lebanese authorities introduced new conditions for Syrian refugees – restricting entry to those coming from areas where there is fighting near the Lebanese border. The impact of this policy is not yet clear.
“No one who is seeking safe refuge from the Syria crisis should be forcibly returned there. All refugees must be allowed to reside in Lebanon without fear of arrest or deportation,” said Sherif Elsayed Ali.
Those who have managed to safely cross the border into Lebanon still face considerable uncertainty. According to information received by Amnesty International, some Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not being allowed to renew their temporary visas or residency permits, leaving them in legal limbo and at risk of arrest and deportation.
In some cases people find they do not have the right documents to secure or renew visas and – in desperation – return to Syria to obtain documents. Other refugees spoke of the difficulties of affording fees associated with renewing visas.
Families torn apart
Suleiman, a 12 –year-old boy, has been separated from his parents and brother for nearly a year since they returned from Lebanon to Syria to get new identity documents, which are needed to renew visas in Lebanon. His parents have since tried to re-enter Lebanon more than 30 times to no avail. He is now living with an uncle in Lebanon.
A woman who managed to escape from the besieged area of Yarmouk was denied entry to Lebanon at her first attempt in March 2014 even though she was six months pregnant and accompanied by five children. She was admitted to Lebanon on the second attempt after being helped by a UN worker. When her husband and two elder sons tried to join her in Lebanon a month later Lebanese border officials refused them entry because they were Palestinians.
Amnesty International is calling on the Lebanese authorities to ensure that all refugees from Syria can enter Lebanon and seek refuge; conditions of entry should not prevent anyone seeking refuge and must abide by the principle of non-discrimination.
The organization is also renewing its call for the international community to step up its financial support to Syria’s neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, which is hosting the largest number of refugees from Syria.
“Without greater international support and financial help the restrictions on all refugees from Syria in Lebanon are almost certain to increase. The magnitude of the spiralling Syrian refugee crisis demands a joint international response,” said Sherif Elsayed Ali.
“To its considerable credit and despite the strain it has caused, Lebanon has generally kept its doors open for people fleeing Syria and must be encouraged to keep them open, including for Palestinians from Syria. The international community must not ignore its shameful failure to provide even close to adequate support to Lebanon. ”