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January 12, 2018 | 43 Pages | English | Sami Atallah and Dima Mahdi
Law and Politics of “Safe Zones” and Forced Return to Syria: Refugee Politics in Lebanon

This paper—funded by the European Regional Development and Protection Programme for the Middle East—aims to assess how political developments in Lebanon could amplify calls for the forced return of Syrian refugees to Syria or the establishment of “safe zones”. Based on interviews with key stakeholders such as Lebanese government officials, political party members, security sector experts, and humanitarian actors, as well as a review of media reports, this paper features three main arguments. First, the Lebanese state does not intend to formalize a national response toward the humanitarian crisis unless it is focused on the repatriation of Syrian refugees to Syria. Second, Lebanese political discord has paved the way for non-state actors, particularly Hezbollah, to take the lead in the promotion of safe areas in Syria and negotiate the repatriation of Syrian refugees to Syria. Third, in the absence of a national framework, refugee policies are de facto dictated by municipalities and security agencies. Recognizing these factors, this paper calls for the development of a structured national response plan that outlines roles for stakeholders and bestows upon refugees their rights under international and Lebanese law; agreeing upon a rubric by which the repatriation of Syrian refugees can be discussed nationally and ensuring that such a policy would be carried out in a manner that respects refugees’ human rights and dignity; and introducing viable accountability mechanisms between local and national governments.

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