In recent weeks, Lebanese authorities have arrested hundreds of displaced Syrians without official residency papers and deported dozens back to Syria. Human rights groups have warned that the deportations put victims at risk of persecution, including illegal and arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, and forced disappearance by Syrian security forces. Some of the deportees also face challenges related to housing, land, and property rights.
Official Lebanese figures estimate between 1.50 and 2.08 million Syrians residing in Lebanon, a large portion of whom are formally registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, they have been unable to obtain official residency papers in Lebanon due to complex administrative procedures. Lebanese authorities have justified the recent spate of raids, arrests and deportations by citing an old decree issued by the Higher Defence Council in 2019 that ordered the deportation of Syrians who entered Lebanon via informal border crossings.
Ibrahim is a Syrian man from Qusayr, a rural city in the southern part of the Homs governorate near the border with Lebanon. He owns an Arab-style house there with a front garden, all of which is officially listed under his name in the Land Registry. Ibrahim also holds a “green tabu” title deed for the property.
Syrian opposition forces briefly controlled Qusayr in 2012-13 before regime forces and the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah captured it in 2013, displacing the residents. Ibrahim fled to Lebanon through an informal border crossing and now lives in Zahleh, a city in the Bekaa Valley. At first, he obtained official residency papers in Lebanon but recently failed to renew them due to new restrictions by Lebanese authorities.
A Lebanese Military Intelligence patrol stopped Ibrahim on his way to work last week at a temporary checkpoint set up along a public road. They then deported him and other detained Syrians to the border area between Lebanon and Syria at the Masnaa crossing, where the Lebanese authorities handed deportees to a Syrian Military Intelligence detachment. From there, Ibrahim underwent a security check and received a Ministry of Interior document informing him he had 15 days to begin his mandatory conscription in the Syrian army.
Afterwards, he entered Syrian territory and headed to his hometown just outside Qusayr. But when he arrived, Ibrahim was shocked to find a family of strangers living in his house who refused to leave. He told The Syria Report that the family was from the city of Homs and consisted of a father who was a member of Military Intelligence and two adult sons, one who is a volunteer in Military Intelligence and the other a member of Lebanese Hezbollah. Ibrahim filed a complaint at the police station, where an officer advised him to seek the help of the judiciary to reclaim his extorted home. Property extortion is when someone seizes another person’s property without the latter’s consent, a legal property deed, or legitimate reason.
Several families have previously voluntarily returned to Qusayr before Ibrahim but were unable to reclaim their extorted homes from military members and officers and Hezbollah fighters, even after filing official complaints and lawsuits. Ibrahim was advised to join the army and then file the lawsuit, which would strengthen his position given that the case would involve the seizure of a home belonging to a military member.
Qusayr is treated somewhat differently from other areas in Syria as it is today considered a sphere of influence for Hezbollah, which runs military bases and training camps there. Only Syrian regime forces and allied militia members are allowed to settle in the area.
Ahmad, another young man from Qusayr, faces a similar situation. Syrian members of Hezbollah now occupy his house. Like Ibrahim, Ahmad has a “green tabu” deed for his Arab-style house near the Lebanese border, which was damaged during wartime clashes. Hezbollah converted the house into what appears to be a military site for its members. However, unlike Ibrahim, Ahmad cannot reclaim his house even if he joined the army and getting the property back would be a long and arduous process with no guarantee of success. As such, Ahmad decided to return to Lebanon through an informal crossing.
Meanwhile, Adnan was displaced from his hometown in the countryside just west of Damascus alongside his family in 2013 during battles between regime and opposition forces and resettled in Lebanon. Adnan’s brother was an opposition fighter who was killed during the clashes with the regime’s Fourth Division popular committees, which took control of their hometown in 2016. As retribution for his brother’s fighting, these popular committees seized Adnan’s house and used it as a headquarters for their members. Since 2017, they have also been cultivating and harvesting crops on Adnan’s land without his consent.
In recent days, the Lebanese army arrested Adnan and more than 50 other Syrians during a raid on homes in the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood just outside Beirut. The detainees faced verbal and physical abuse before authorities took them to the border and left them at the Masnaa Crossing. Syrian Military Intelligence arrested Adnan, but they released him because he was not wanted by any security agencies or for military conscription. Adnan says he cannot demand his house back unless he coordinates with the committees that seized it. Making such a demand through the judiciary could expose him to potential retaliation or being framed and arrested for a made-up charge.
Lebanese authorities also recently arrested and deported four Syrian refugees during a raid on a camp in Al-Qaraoun in the western Bekaa Valley. The four detainees were displaced from the Aleppo governorate town of Khanasir in 2012 after militias affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps took control of the area. The government has banned original residents from returning to the area as those militias now consider it a closed military zone. With no other options, the four detainees returned to Lebanon from Syria that same day after reaching out to a Lebanese people smuggler and paying USD 150 for the journey.
Khalil fled to Lebanon from a rural area near Salamieh in the Hama governorate in 2012. He owns an Arab-style house and 15 hectares of farmland. However, the area was devastated during clashes between opposition and regime forces. Several days ago, Lebanese authorities arrested Khalil at a temporary checkpoint on the Zahleh highway. Notably, authorities left Khalil and the others detained with him at the Masnaa crossing, where smugglers with ties to the Fourth Division found them and offered to take them back across the border into Lebanon for USD 100 each. They took the offer and went back to Lebanon.
By this point, Khalil’s house in rural Hama had been completely destroyed, and his land was seized and cultivated by people with ties to the regime. During displacement, Khalil also lost the title deeds for the house and his land. In addition, the area lacks electricity and other infrastructure, and unexploded landmines there mean returning would be too dangerous for Khalil and his family.