Lebanese authorities “forcibly returned” more than 100 Syrians to Syria on two separate flights from Beirut airport on Friday afternoon and approximately 100-150 Syrians are waiting to be “forcibly returned” on a 9:30 pm flight later tonight, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“General Security should immediately halt the planned forcible return of Syrians from the Beirut airport to Syria later this evening,” said Haley Bobseine, Lebanon Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Authorities should ensure that competent authorities individually examine the claims of any Syrian who fears return to Syria and not return anyone at risk,” Bobseine added.
According to the human rights watchdog, hundreds of Syrians had arrived at the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut on Thursday in transit to Turkey but were unable to complete their onward journey to Turkey due to the new visa regulations for Syrians entering Turkey.
“The individuals are currently in the custody of Lebanese General Security at the Beirut airport in anticipation of their forcible return to Syria at 9:30pm this evening,” the HRW statement said.
“The forcible return of anyone in danger of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment contravenes Lebanon’s obligations under the international Convention Against Torture,” it added.
Under article 3 of the Convention against Torture, which Lebanon ratified in 2000, Lebanon cannot send anyone – including a convicted criminal – to a country where the person would face a real risk of torture, the statement said.
“Forcibly returning someone at risk of inhuman treatment shows a total disregard for their rights and safety and is a violation of international law,” said Bobseine.
Human Rights Watch reminded that it had previously documented “the forcible return (from Lebanon) of four Syrian nationals to Syria on August 1, 2012 and about three dozen Palestinians to Syria on May 4, 2014.”
HRW also documented the forcible return of “a Syrian national to Syria in 2014 and the suspected return of two Syrian nationals that same year.”
“The government should immediately halt this planned forcible return and make a public commitment to end all forcible returns,” Bobseine said.
Earlier in the day, state-run National News Agency said 400 Syrian nationals were unable to travel to Turkey via Beirut's airport after two Turkish planes failed to arrive at the Rafik Hariri International Airport to transport the passengers to the destination.
“Four hundred Syrians who arrived from Syria were supposed to depart to Turkey Thursday evening, but two Turkish planes that were supposed to fly them did not arrive at the RHIA,” NNA said.
In December, Turkey's Foreign Ministry announced visa requirements for Syrians preventing them from entering Turkey without obtaining one.
The move is designed to lower the influx of Syrians arriving in Turkey, and it comes after European officials criticized Ankara for not doing enough to limit the flow of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa trying to reach Europe.
The chief of the Beirut airport security, General George Doumit, made contacts with the administrator of the Syrian Arab Airlines Samir Harb to take the necessary measures to return the 400 Syrians back to Syria, NNA said.
NNA added that a Syrian plane had arrived at the airport at 1:30 pm and another two were expected at 5:00 and 9:00 pm.