Forty-one "Palestinian refugees," descendants of Arab residents who left Israel prior to the 1948 founding of the modern state, were deported from Lebanon back to Syria on Sunday, in a move that garnered international condemnation.
The United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), a UN body established for the welfare of the "Palestinian refugees," expressed concern over the deportation back to war-torn Syria, reports BBC.
The deportation violates the international principle of "non-refoulement," forbidding states from sending asylum seekers back to places of danger, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The group says one of the deported remained in the area between the Lebanese and Syrian borders out of fear of returning to Syria.
HRW added that the decision to deport came after the asylum seekers were arrested at Beirut airport on Saturday, for allegedly trying to leave Lebanon on false visas.
"The Lebanese government is bearing an incomparable burden with the Syrian refugees crossing its borders, but blocking Palestinians from Syria is mishandling the situation," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
Noting the figures, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness stated that Lebanon had let over a million Syrian refugees into the country since the conflict broke out three years ago, and among those were 50,000 "Palestinian refugees."
Reports last September revealed that Lebanon was blocking "Palestinian refugees" from fleeing into the country from Syria, where "Palestinian refugee" camps, primarily the Yarmouk camp, have been hit by the violence and by army sieges blocking off food supplies and leading to mass starvation.
While the issue of descendants of Arabs who left Israel has been highly publicized, the roughly 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced to flee Arab lands around the time of the establishment of Israel has received much less attention. The Jewish refugees had their wealth taken from them, and comprised a number equal or greater to the number of "Palestinian refugees."