Lebanon has deported dozens of Syrians back to Syria after a crackdown on undocumented refugees from the war-torn country, security officials said.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled to neighbouring Lebanon after the country's civil war began in 2011 with the brutal suppression of anti-regime protests.
"The army has deported more than 50 Syrians from Lebanon in the past two weeks," an army official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Another security official said dozens of Syrians had been expelled.
They said Lebanon's army intelligence unit had been cracking down on undocumented Syrians, arresting them and handing them to border guards, who then expelled them from Lebanon.
"The army's detention centres are full" and other security agencies have refused to take in the arrested refugees, the army official said.
"So the army had to take this measure and place them outside Lebanese borders."
One of the Syrians deported was an army defector, a relative said, warning that "his life is in danger".
He had been living in Lebanon since 2014 and was expelled with his wife and two children, he said.
There are about two million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to authorities, of whom only about 830,000 are registered with the UN.
They face growing anti-Syrian sentiment as Lebanon struggles with an economic crisis that has pushed at least 80 per cent of its population into poverty.
Lebanese authorities have long pushed for Syrian refugees to return and have made several repatriation efforts they described as voluntary, but which human rights groups say were forced.
Rights groups also say some refugees have faced persecution and reject the idea that refugee returns to Syria are safe.
The UN refugee agency on Friday said it was "following up" on the reports, and that it "continues to advocate for the respect of principles of international law and ensure that refugees in Lebanon are protected from refoulement", the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to be persecuted.
The security and army officials said Lebanese authorities did not co-ordinate the deportations with Damascus. Some of the expelled refugees had returned to Lebanon with the help of smugglers who charged them $100 per person, they said.
Lebanese General Security is in charge of foreigners' affairs in the country and border monitoring, but an official at the agency said they were not involved in the deportations.
A humanitarian source told AFP they had noticed increased army intelligence raids on Syrian communities in Beirut and the Mount Lebanon area since the beginning of the month.
About 450 Syrians have been arrested and 66 confirmed deported, they said.
"So far in 2023, at least five raids have taken place," the source said.
Since the Damascus regime regained control of most of Syria, some host countries have sought to expel refugees, citing a relative end to hostilities.
Lebanon has been mired since 2019 in an economic crisis that the World Bank says is one of the worst in modern history.