Syrian Palestinians: Once a refugee always a refugee

By Hajer M'tiri, Friday, May 09, 2014

Syrian-Palestinain refugees deported by Lebanon are desperate to avoid Syria return

Syrian-Palestinain refugees deported by Lebanon are desperate to avoid Syria return

AL MASNAA - On May 3, 49 Syrian and Palestinian refugees who had fled Syria and its civil war were forced by Lebanese border officials to return. They were deported after earlier being arrested at Beirut International Airport, while trying to travel to Libya, when Lebanese authorities claimed their visas were falsified. 

Aware of what awaited them in Syria, three young Syrian-Palestinians forced the bus crew to stop in the "no man's land" between the Syrian and Lebanese borders, in the hope that they might be allowed to return to their families in Lebanon. 

Ever since, Adham, Houssam and Mustafa have been stuck in the mountainous area between the borders, where temperatures fluctuate wildly, without access to shelter, heating or food, they told the Anadolu Agency. They sleep on top of their backpacks, which are placed on a cold concrete floor in a roofless room that is really no more than two walls.

"We are here for five days, sleeping outdoors under the rain and in this cold weather," says Adham, his face hidden by a black hood. "We met an UNRWA representative and he couldn't even provide us with blankets or food."

UNRWA is the UN relief agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.  

They explained that two of them are wanted for military service in the Syrian army and the other is wanted by the Syrian regime for his activism. 

The three of them had been in Lebanon for more than a year and Mustafa said he was forced to leave his pregnant wife and four children there.

The UN agency said that it is concerned by the deportation of the 41 refugees but the agency's spokesperson, Christopher Gunness, told the Anadolu Agency they are limited in the help they can provide.

"We can't just put three people in a car, drive them to the airport, give them a ticket and help them travelling to a third country," he says. "We have to respect the rules of the country."

He also added that the UN agency has a specific "protective" mandate that mainly involves working with refugee camps in Lebanon.

In Jordan and Lebanon, it has registered nearly 5,000 Palestinian refugees from the ongoing conflict in Syria. As both countries are already home to large Palestinian refugee populations, the arrival of more has become politicized, with Palestinians feeling they are treated unfairly and Lebanese authorities now placing restrictions on Palestinians.

Human Rights Watch also criticized Lebanon on Tuesday for deporting the 49 Palestinians and Syrians.

"The Lebanese government should urgently rescind its decision to bar Palestinians from Syria from entering Lebanon," the organization said.

"Such a policy violates the international law principle of non-refoulement, which forbids governments from returning refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened," their statement added.

Human Rights Watch added: "The Lebanese government is bearing an incomparable burden with the Syrian refugees crossing its borders, but blocking Palestinians from Syria is mishandling the situation. Palestinians are among the most vulnerable people in the Syria conflict, and like Syrian nationals are at risk of both generalized violence and targeted attacks."

On Thursday, Lebanese Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that the Palestinian refugees from Syria were not barred from entering Lebanon but specific requirements for their entry had been issued. Any Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria would required to present an entry permit, residency of up to three years or a Lebanese exit and return permits. Those with valid permits would be allowed to travel abroad, as those deported in May attempted to, but will not automatically be granted permission to return to Lebanon. 

The three Syrian Palestinians asked the Lebanese Red Cross to intervene on their behalf to Lebanese government to let them enter and travel if a third country agrees to resettle them.

While talking to the Anadolu Agency, rain begins to pour down on their exposed dwelling, and a man with a nearby garage agrees to provide shelter, temporarily. He lets the three men charge their mobile phones, the only connection they have to family and friends; to send for help. 

"Going back to Syria means death," Houssam says, ignoring a nearby explosion that shakes the room. "Why insisting on making our fate as once a refugee always a refugee and even without having a shelter or a land. Help us, we just want to live."

The three young men also expressed their fear of being arrested by a patrol from the Lebanese army or the Syrian army's elite Fourth Division, a military brigade under the command of Syrian president’s brother, General Maher Al-Assad.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency