BEIRUT — Lebanon's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Thursday that "non-Lebanese" emigrants who left Lebanon informally and are sent back to Lebanon will not be received in the country "regardless of their boat's starting point."
Cyprus was criticized by human rights watchdogs for repatriating 109 migrants to Lebanon after three irregular migration boats reached its shores between Jul. 29 and Aug. 2.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Beirut said Lebanon was informed about the "departure of an illegal migrant boat from Lebanese waters to Cyprus." The ministry condemned such departures and stressed "Lebanon's commitment to receiving migrants who hold Lebanese identity papers."
The ministry also criticized what it called "double standards" by other countries "in dealing with illegal immigrants and especially Syrians."
"These countries refuse to admit [Syrians] and forcibly return them through third countries to areas in Syria that they describe as unsafe."
In a statement published on Aug. 11, the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) and other Human Rights NGOs said that among the 1o9 individuals forcibly returned from Cyprus, "at least 73 were subsequently deported to Syria and handed over to the Syrian regime."
CLDH added that "the people reportedly left Tartous, Syria, and did not come from Lebanon."
Moreover, CLDH noted that "on Aug. 3, 36 passengers ... were forcibly pushed back from Cypriot waters to Lebanon and were then arbitrarily detained by the General Security."
CLDH and other NGOs called "Cyprus to comply with its international legally binding commitments by refraining from forcibly returning individuals to Lebanon without evaluating their need for protection and the risks they face in Lebanon and Syria." They also said that "Lebanon must ensure the respect of the human rights of individuals rescued and forcibly returned."
Last Friday, the United Nations refugee agency said it was "extremely concerned" over the return of more than 100 Syrian nationals from Cyprus to Lebanon.
According to Cyprus, such returns are legal as Lebanon and Cyprus signed a bilateral agreement in 2004 that obligates Lebanon to prevent and stop irregular border crossings and migration of people who depart from Lebanon.
This year, the Cypriot government decided to deny the relocation of migrants who arrived after Jan. 1 to other European countries.
Cypriot Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou visited Lebanon on July 27 and agreed with Lebanese officials to increase information exchange and conduct joint maritime patrols to stop migrants from leaving Lebanon or Syria.
Informal migration attempts from Lebanon have increased in recent months. From January to December 2022, UNHCR claimed to have received reports of 51 boats involved in irregular transit from Lebanon, with 4,334 passengers on board.
In 2022, 62.2 percent of would-be migrants were Syrians, 28 percent were Lebanese, and 11 percent were Palestinians, according to UNHCR figures.