Oct. 2, 2014 – [Geneva] – Harassment and attacks on Syrian refugees by Lebanese soldiers are increasing, warns The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, and must be halted.
“Although the security concerns of the Lebanese army are justified following its deadly clashes with extremists, this does not excuse the collective punishment of refugees who already have suffered greatly, including the loss of their homes and livelihoods,” said Maha Hussaini, spokesperson for the Euro-Med Monitor.
Anti-Syrian sentiments were fueled following clashes in early August between the Lebanese army and militants from the Nusra Front and ISIS, in which 19 soldiers were killed and more than 30 abducted. On Thursday, Euro-Med Monitor received photographs documenting retaliation by Lebanese soldiers storming a refugee camp outside the town of Arsal on the Syrian border, ostensibly searching for militants.
The photographs showed Lebanese soldiers detaining and beating refugees, stomping on their heads and bodies after handcuffing them, and committing other acts of humiliation and physical aggression.
At least one of the refugees was killed and two wounded, and many tents that served as the refugees’ homes were set on fire. While a Lebanese army spokesperson claimed that soldiers patrolling the camp opened fire on unknown men who set the fire, residents disputed this account, saying the troops themselves poured petrol on the tents.
More than a million Syrian refugees, including approximately 57,000 of Palestinian origin, have overwhelmed the Lebanese population of 4 million. Most are corralled into camps near the border. The result is a hostile environment, in which racism is rampant and public opinion sides with the army as it commits human rights violations.
“The Lebanese army breaks into the refugee camps on a daily basis, detaining and humiliating Syrians,” says Hussaini.“ This also is not the first time that refugees' tents have been burned with impunity.
While the fear and hostility of the army and residents are understandable, given the sheer numbers of people seeking asylum in a small country and the mayhem caused by the armed extremist groups, collectively punishing another traumatized group is not the answer.
The Lebanese government must hold its soldiers to account and the international community must develop a more regional solution to the current refugee crisis.”