Lebanon to start returning Syrian refugees, despite rights groups' fears

Lebanese officials believe that the situation in Syria has de-escalated enough to send refugees back to their home country.

SIX-YEAR-OLD Awan Al-Aziz stands in a tent at a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Syria in June. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters) (photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)
SIX-YEAR-OLD Awan Al-Aziz stands in a tent at a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Syria in June. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
(photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)

Lebanon will start sending Syrian refugees back to their home country at the end of next week, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday, despite rights groups' fears for their safety.

Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. The government estimates that the country's population of over 6 million includes roughly 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria, though well under 1 million are registered with the UNHCR.

How does Lebanon plan to approach Syrian refugees?

Lebanon's minister for displaced people, Issam Charafeddine, in July announced a plan that he said would seek to return some 15,000 refugees to Syria per month, basing his move on a claim that Syria had become largely safe after more than a decade of war.

The plan would not involve the UNHCR, which maintains that conditions in Syria do not allow for the large-scale return of refugees.

The UNHCR did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Syrian refugee kids play on a rubble of dismantled concrete huts at a makeshift Syrian refugee camp in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)Syrian refugee kids play on a rubble of dismantled concrete huts at a makeshift Syrian refugee camp in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)

New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in July that "Syria is anything but safe for returnees."

"Syrian refugees who returned between 2017 and 2021 from Lebanon and Jordan faced grave human rights abuses and persecution at the hands of the Syrian government and affiliated militias," Lama Fakih, director of HRW's Middle East Division, wrote in a post.