BEIRUT — Lebanese cabinet ministers demanded Wednesday that the UN's refugee agency hand over data on Syrian refugees in the country, that refugees' births and other data be legally registered and "labor controls" tightened amid increasing anti-refugee rhetoric.
The new regulations were announced following a ministerial meeting Wednesday that focused on repatriating Syrian refugees, which rights groups have decried as unsafe amid continued fighting in Syria and political reprisals for returnees.
This meeting was held as two opposing protests were set to occur Wednesday but were banned Tuesday night by caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, citing security reasons.
The first protest was a sit-in by Syrian refugees at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) headquarters in Beirut, condemning the agency’s silence amid increased deportations, and the second a counter-protest by an anti-Syrian refugee group.
According to the state-run National News Agency, only a handful of Syrian protesters had showed up Wednesday at the UNHCR headquarters in Jnah, with Lebanese military personnel present.
'Strictly pursue violators'
After the Grand Serail meeting Wednesday, cabinet ministers demanded that UNHCR "provide the Interior Ministry with all kinds of data for the displaced Syrians, within a maximum period of one week from this date," warning that "refugee status" will be revoked for those leaving Lebanese territory. They also called on security services to "strictly pursue violators and to prevent the entry of Syrians [into Lebanon] through illegal means."
The ministers also tasked the Interior Ministry and Social Affairs Ministry to register the births of Syrians in Lebanon, in coordination with the UNHCR. The Labor Ministry was tasked with "tightening labor control within the permitted sectors" on Syrians in Lebanon.
Syrians are legally only allowed to work in agriculture and several other labor-intensive fields in Lebanon.
The ministers on Wednesday also asked caretaker Justice Minister Henry Khoury to communicate with Syrian authorities about potentially handing over Syrian detainees in Lebanon "immediately."
The Ministerial Committee said that it will continue to follow up on "the voluntary return of displaced Syrians."
Lebanon has made several attempts at repatriation, which officials have described as voluntary. But human rights groups have decried the repatriations as forced amid reports of persecution and reprisals upon their return to Syria.
In addition, Lebanon deported 50 Syrian nationals in April, amid increased anti-Syrian rhetoric in the country.
Amnesty International on Tuesday called on the Lebanese authorities to "halt unlawful deportations of Syrian refugees," fearing that they would be "tortured or persecuted" by the Syrian government upon their forced return.
The rights groups added that the Syrian authorities have recently arrested at least one of those deported by the Lebanese authorities.