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Hundreds of Syrian refugees return home under Lebanese repatriation scheme

On the first day of repatriations organised by Beirut, hundreds of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon returned home on Wednesday.

Around 700 Syrians gathered in the early morning near the Lebanese-Syrian border. As reported by Reuters, they had suitcases, power generators, fridges and even chickens with them.

Meanwhile, Syria’s press agency SANA said the Syrian returnees entered Syrian territory through the Ad-Dabusiyya border crossing in the Homs province.

The repatriations, Lebanese authorities claim, are voluntary and carried out under a revived programme coordinated by the country’s General Security agency. Some rights groups, however, are concerned that the scheme may involve elements of coercion.

One Twitter user by the name of “Laith Albitar” claimed that the refugees were driven out by Hezbollah and that the camps they were staying at in Lebanon were set on fire.

بعد أن نكلت بهم عصابات حزبالله في لبنان
وأحرقت خيامهم لتجبرهم على الرحيل
وصول دفعة من #المهجرين_السوريين قادمين من مخيمات اللجوء في #لبنان عبر #معبر_الدبوسية الحدودي في #تلكلخ
ومحافظة #حمص
كان الله بعون أهلنا العائدين قسرا لحضن عصابات القتل الأسدية

— Laith Albitar (@albitar_laith) October 26, 2022

Opinions as regards the soundness of a repatriation scheme at this stage of Syria’s 11-year war vary. Some argue, with a certain correctness to their argument, that the country’s frontlines are now secure. The United Nations, however, claim flare-ups in violence and the risk of detention make it still unsafe for large-scale returns.

Today Lebanon is home to more than 800,000 Syrians registered with the U.N. refugee agency. Their exodus was initiated by the violence in the aftermath of protests against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in 2011. At its peak, Lebanon hosted around 1.2 million, Reuters reported.

The beginnings of Lebanon’s repatriation programme date back to 2018 when the country’s General Security agency launched a mechanism through which any Syrian refugee could signal a desire to return home. The agency would then liaise with Syrian authorities to make sure that the individual was not wanted there.

That avenue enabled the return of about 400,000 Syrians but the COVID-19 put the scheme on hold. Outgoing Lebanese President Michel Aoun revived it this month and it resumed on Wednesday.

The majority of Syria lies in ruins, including private homes and public infrastructure, not excluding power and water services, which are devastated.

Returning refugees may not have accurate or complete information on the level of risk in their hometowns, meaning the returns may not be “free and informed,” Amnesty International warned.

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