Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon

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The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Secretary of State for International Development
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP, Secretary of State for Defence
H.E Ambassador Inaam Osseiran

We are writing to you to express our grave concerns over the mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Late last month, the Lebanese authorities began a campaign of persecution against Syrian refugees in the country. On 30 June, the Lebanese army raided the Arsal refugee camp, arresting 400 refugees at random. A few days later the bodies of at least three of those refugees were returned to their families. They had reportedly been tortured to death by the Lebanese army.

One of the dead was a Syrian nurse and anaesthetist, Anas al-Husaiki, who had previously treated casualties of the war inside Syria. Human Rights Watch has called for ‘a formal, transparent and independent investigation’ of the deaths. Reuters has subsequently reported that a Lebanese military prosecutor ordered forensics to examine the bodies of four Syrians who died in army custody. The Syrian National Coalition has said as many as ten people died in custody.

The rest of the refugees detained in Arsal refugee camp are still in Lebanese prisons. Lawyer Fahd Al-Mousa has said that they are now ‘undergoing the worst forms of torture’ by Lebanese security forces. According to some reports, around 5,000 Syrian men and women are imprisoned in Lebanon either by the Lebanese government or Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria.

Syrians believe the Lebanese government wants to keep quiet its crimes against refugees in Lebanon. It seems that Lebanese authorities have adopted a policy of intimidating and terrifying Syrian refugees, forcing them back to Assad-regime held areas of Syria where they face an uncertain fate. Only public pressure from around the world can bring a halt to these actions.

The UK is spending millions helping train the Lebanese army, with £15 million for border guard training and £4.5 million for general training announced last year.

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel visited Lebanon earlier this year, meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and touring Syrian refugee camps. She also reaffirmed that the UK will continue to invest £160 millions over four years in education in Lebanon.

The Lebanese authorities’ latest actions against Syrian refugees seriously cast doubt on their suitability to be direct recipients of UK aid and military support.

The international community must work to ensure to the safety and protection of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We call on the UK government to urgently raise the issue of the detention, torture, and killing of Syrian refugees with the Lebanese government.

Syrian refugees detained in Lebanon must be charged or released immediately and the International Committee of the Red Cross and international human rights organisations should be able to visit them and monitor the conditions of their detention.

There should be an independent international investigation into the reported torture and killing of these refugees, and those responsible must be held to account.

Amr Salahi, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Dr Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community South West
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Ros Ereira, Solidarity with Refugees

Response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Our reference: EMOP/907/2017

4 August 2017

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your emails of 19 July to the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Defence Secretary about Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Your emails to the Secretary of State for International Development and the Defence Secretary have been passed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for a response. The Near East Department of the FCO has been asked to reply.

On 5 July, 21 July and 27 July our Ambassador to Lebanon raised the issue of the deaths of Syrian refugees in Lebanese custody with Lebanese Armed Forces senior leadership to encourage them to engage with the allegations of human rights abuse in an open and transparent way. We, therefore, welcome the announcement of an inquiry into the incident. We are encouraging the Lebanese authorities to ensure that the investigation is transparent, independent and delivers its conclusions in a timely manner. We will continue to follow the issue closely.

Lebanon is on the frontline of the crisis in Syria and faces a high threat from terrorism. Our support for the Lebanese Armed Forces is enabling them to build their capabilities, strengthen the country’s borders and protect the Lebanese people, as well as the refugees it is hosting.

Since the start of the Syria crisis, DFID has allocated £519 million in humanitarian and development funding to Lebanon. This has included providing nearly half a million cash grants and vouchers to help vulnerable people meet their basic needs, helping to expand the Lebanese education system to reach almost 300,000 Syrian children, and improving infrastructure and services in 51 of the most conflict-prone municipalities.

On behalf of the
Near East Department
Foreign and Commonwealth Office