Article for GlobalPost
Over a week after Lebanon announced radical changes in its approach to the Syrian refugee crisis, questions about the policy remain: Is the government about to enact a policy, in compliance with international law, that helps it to identify and better assist the most needy among the displaced? Or has the ground been laid for legitimate refugees — people fleeing falling bombs, summary killings, torture, and more — to be forcibly returned to the very dangers they fled?
After months of growing pressure to curb the number of people entering Lebanon, the interior minister announced on May 31 — days after the area around the Syrian Embassy in Beirut was brought to a standstill when tens of thousands turned out to vote in Syria’s presidential election — that Syrians in Lebanon risked losing their refugee status if they crossed the border back to Syria. Refugee status is required for these individuals to claim basic food, shelter or medical aid from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
The government claims the new powers are in accordance with Article I, Section C of the UN’s 1951 Convention on Refugees, which states that an individual cannot be defined as a refugee if “he has voluntarily re-availed himself of the protection of the country of his nationality.”
But Latmah Fakih, Lebanon and Syria researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the policy’s broad scope jeopardizes the principle of “non-refoulement,” which the UNHCR describes as “the cornerstone of asylum and of international refugee law.” The principle forbids governments from returning refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
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