A first batch of Syrian refugees left Lebanon Wednesday for their home country under a new repatriation plan slammed by rights groups.
In the early hours of the morning, dozens of minibuses and trucks left Arsal in eastern Lebanon and drove towards the Syrian border.
The refugees took with them personal belongings and farm animals, media sources said.
Lebanon’s minister for displaced people, Essam Sharaf El-Din, confirmed that 483 families were registered in the list to General Security,
There are likely to be around 1,500 to 1,800 Syrians leaving Lebanon by the weekend in three caravans of vehicles, he added.
The Director-General of Public Security, Major General Ibrahim, pointed out that around two million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, nearly 830,000 of whom are registered with the United Nations.
Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security agency, which is responsible for the country’s borders, said the returns would be voluntary and based on a mechanism first used in 2017.
Lebanon’s General Security agency said around 750 refugees were expected to return to Syria in the coming days from several regions.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said that “a group of Syrian exiles arrived from refugee camps in Lebanon through the Daboussiye border crossing in central Homs province to return to their safe and terror-free areas.”
The Lebanese authorities described the process as voluntary based on a claim that Syria had become largely safe after more than a decade of war.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a sweeping amnesty earlier this year for a range of crimes which says it includes those committed by Syrians who fled their country during the 11-year conflict.
Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. The government estimates that the country’s population of over 6 million includes roughly 1.5 million refugees from neighbouring Syria, though well under 1 million are registered with the UNHCR.
Lebanon has been suffering a man-made economic crisis started in 2019, and today the country stands as “a failing State” amid a dramatic collapse in basic services.
Earlier in June, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that his country would soon begin sending Syrian refugees back across the border.
“We are serious about implementing this plan and we hope to do so within months,” Mikati said.
“This is a humane, honourable, patriotic and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon especially during the current situation.”
The United Nations estimates that 90 percent of Syrian refugee households live in extreme poverty.
Since late 2019, poverty has worsened for both Lebanese and Syrians in Lebanon as the country continues to struggle with a crippling economic crisis.
The $9 billion assistance provided through the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan since 2015 has shown tangible results for the host population and displaced persons. However, the continuing impact of the Syria crisis and the current economic crisis in Lebanon pushed everyone to the brink.
Lebanon’s situation is going from bad to worse as Cholera continues to spread across the country, with cases now being reported in nearly all regions of the country, including the capital Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli.