Refugees from the fighting in Syria have been streaming into Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon for months – there may be as many as a million refugees in the three countries – but for descendants of Arabs who fled the Land of Israel in 1948, the latter destination is off-limits. Arabs who were living in refugee camps in Syria are being forced to go to either Turkey or Jordan, even if they live closer to the Lebanese border, because Lebanon doesn't want them.
Lebanon was already home to some half a million Arabs whose family members fled Israel in 1948, in the wake of Israel's independence. Many Arabs responded to calls by Arab armies to leave their homes for a short time in order to allow the armies a “clean” battlefield in which they could massacre Jews. When the Jews won the war and an armistice was declared in 1949, many of the Arabs who left Israel in the hopes that they would quickly return and pounce upon the murdered Jews' property found themselves stuck in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. Governments there refused to grant citizenship or resident status to these Arabs, and they were forced to remain in the refugee camps.
Most Arabs from these families are Sunni Muslims, and many were reluctant to go to Lebanon, because of the strong influence of Shi'ite Islam there, thanks to the dominance of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, which advocates Shi'a. However, many were willing to take a chance, because the horrors of the war in Syria were greater than the suffering they feared they would face in Lebanon.
But refugees in Syria told the IRIN news service that in recent weeks they were stopped at the border and eventually sent back to Syria.
One refugee, Ahmed, told IRIN that he sent his family to Lebanon at the beginning of August, after shelling destroyed their home in Syria. They successfully entered the country, and are staying with relatives in a Lebanese refugee camp.
But when Ahmed tried to join his family a few weeks later, he was detained at the Syrian border. “When I crossed over to the Lebanese customs, I was surprised by the lines of Palestinians waiting to cross,” he told IRIN. “We were pushed and beaten by customs officers. We were treated like animals by the General Security.”
“The first day of my arrival [at the Lebanese border post], I had to wait in line to take my turn for more than 11 hours, and then I was sent back [to the Syrian border post],” he told IRIN. “We were told to stay [in no man’s land] until they allowed us in, but nothing happened.” In the end, Ahmed realized that the Lebanese authorities had no intention of allowing him into Lebanon, and he returned to Syria, despite the fact that he is now homeless, unemployed, and alone. His family, fearing a similar fate, refuse to return to Syria.
IRIN said that Ahmed's experience was similar to many other such refugees in recent weeks. “First we were refugees in Syria, and now we are seeking refuge in Lebanon,” he said. “Like many other Palestinians, I feel we are double refugees.”