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UNHCR Associate Education Officer Vanan Mandjikian does an assessment and advises Syrian families about children's education during a visit to an informal tented settlement in Anfeh outside of Tripoli, Lebanon, Tuesday, October 22, 2013. Image Credit: UNHCR

Beirut: Lebanon has “summarily deported” at least 16 Syrians, some of them registered refugees, by forcing them to sign “voluntary repatriation forms,” human rights groups said on Friday.

Lebanon hosts nearly one million Syrian refugees - a significant burden for a country of four million people - and there has been mounting pressure for them to go home even though the UN says many areas remain unsafe to return to.

The 16 were all removed to Syria on April 26 after they arrived at Beirut airport, Human Rights Watch and four other groups said in a joint report.

Most of them were sent back to Lebanon after they were barred from entering Cyprus via Turkey, quashing their plans to seek asylum, it said.

At least five were registered with the United Nations refugee agency, it added.

“Lebanese authorities shouldn’t deport anyone to Syria without first allowing them a fair opportunity to argue their case for protection,” said HRW’s acting Middle East director, Lama Fakih.

The report said around 30 Syrians have been deported from Beirut airport this year by Lebanon’s General Security agency.

The latest deportees said they were “pressured” by General Security officers at the airport into signing documents stating that they were “voluntarily” returning to Syria.

“My biggest fears returning to Syria are that I would be conscripted and have to fight, or that I would be arrested because the regime has me on a wanted list or because of a case of mistaken identity,” the report quoted one of the deportees as saying.

“If I wasn’t scared of arrest, I wouldn’t have left Syria in the first place.”

General Security estimates that over 170,000 Syrian refugees returned home from Lebanon between December 2017 and March 2019.

Despite some returns, the United Nations says the country as a whole remains unsafe for large-scale repatriations.