The Lebanese army arrested six Syrian men last week who are now at “imminent risk of deportation” to Syria, where they might face torture and abuse, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
At least five of them were former opposition fighters from the southern region of Daraa who may face retaliation from regime forces should they be deported, as the rebel province has come under heavy assault by the government since July despite nominally being under government control.
Lebanese authorities “must ensure that these men are not forcibly returned to Syria,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
The men disappeared after collecting their passports at the Syrian embassy on the outskirts of Beirut.
The Lebanese army said it had arrested six Syrians with the matching initials of those who had disappeared, for entering the country illegally.
“No part of Syria is safe for returns, and these men must be protected,” Ms Maalouf said, adding that authorities must either release them or charge them with “a recognisable offence.”
Lebanon began deporting Syrian refugees following a decision by the Higher Defence Council in 2019.
Amnesty said the practice breaches international law, and that deporting the six men would be a “serious violation of Lebanon’s international obligations.”
The men have not been charged with a crime or an offence and their families have not been informed of their whereabouts, the group said.
They arrived in Lebanon through smuggling routes last month in hopes of travelling to another country, and disappeared shortly after collecting their passports from the Syrian embassy, said activists, relatives and Amnesty International.
The National has been able to confirm that at least one of the men is at risk of retaliation from regime forces should he return.
Former rebel leader Toufic Fayez Qais Al Haji went missing near the embassy last Tuesday.
He fled to Lebanon after the Syrian authorities told him his presence would put his village in danger of siege or attacks, his nephew said on the phone from Turkey.
Lebanon was under Syria’s influence for nearly 30 years. Syrian troops withdrew in 2005 after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. An international court found he had been killed by an operative working for Hezbollah, an ally of the Assad regime.
Iran-backed Hezbollah is militarily involved in Syria’s 10-year civil war alongside Damascus.