Lebanon will not deport six men from Deraa in Syria after they were arrested last month for illegally crossing the border, the country’s top intelligence official has said.
“General Security will not deport the six Syrians and will work to regularise their legal status,” Abbas Ibrahim, who leads the powerful agency, told AFP
The arrest of the men, five of whom are former rebel fighters, in August sparked outcry amid fears that they would be returned to Syria, where they would probably face imprisonment or torture.
Family members told The National that for days they were unable to find the men, who had disappeared near the Syrian embassy in Beirut, sparking fears they might be quietly sent back to Syria.
A statement from the Lebanese Army confirmed the six had been arrested for entering Lebanon illegally. They were then turned over to General Security.
On September 5, their lawyer, Mohammed Sablouh, was told they had 24 hours to secure passports and visas to a third country or face deportation. The deadline was later extended, and had been set to end on Wednesday.
The 11th hour decision reversal was welcomed by rights groups and Mr Sablouh.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has sealed a punishing siege on Deraa, a long-standing pocket of resistance.
The UN says that at least 35,000 people have been displaced from the southern city over the summer.
Earlier on Wednesday, Amnesty International called on the security agency to urgently halt the deportations.
“Deporting these men would be a flagrant violation of Lebanon’s international obligations, including under the UN Torture Convention,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Our message is loud and clear: Syria is not safe for returnees.
"The Syrian authorities continue to commit appalling human rights violations and atrocities, and sending refugees back to Syria is tantamount to knowingly putting their lives in danger.
"We urge the Lebanese authorities to stop all forced deportations and respect pledges made on refugee rights, including on legal protection and non-refoulement."
In a letter to Amnesty in December, General Security said that Lebanon had deported 6,002 people to Syria since May 2019.