FRI 15 - 2 - 2019
Date: Jul 2, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Syrian refugees cross border into Syria
Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Two buses carrying over 40 Syrian refugees left the Masnaa border crossing Sunday to Syria, in the third of such processes recently organized by General Security.

Several refugees gathered at the crossing after the government body announced Saturday evening that it was facilitating the voluntary return of the refugees back to Syria.

The refugees boarded two buses heading to Moadamieh al-Sham in the Damascus countryside, while some other Syrian refugees crossed the border in their own cars.

The General Security said in a statement that it had secured a "voluntary return" for 42 Syrian refugees.

A source told The Daily Star that 33 other Syrian refugees departed separately in the morning and that still others had left on Saturday.

The source added that Syrian army personnel were present in the buses, but couldn't specify why, suggesting that it might have been for coordination purposes. General Security officers were also present to oversee the process. "It is possible there will be more returns soon, also to Moadamieh," the source said.

Local TV channel LBCI announced that several of those leaving were categorized as being from the opposition and certain assurances had to be given to them. The TV channel added that there was contact between the Lebanese and Syrian sides in this regard.

Josep Zapater, head of the UNHCR’s office in Lebanon's Bekaa, confirmed to The Daily Star the refugees were heading to Muadamiyat al-Sham.

“They are going to [Moadamieh], we don't have final figures. Right now they are awaiting procedures in Masnaa. It might be around 19 families,” Zapater said.

He said that the refugee agency had not seen any undue pressure exerted on those who have decided to leave Sunday.

“We are not organizing [returns], but we have interviewed families and have coordinated closely with [the] authorities. We have seen no particular pressure for return and we fully respect decisions of families for return, we did not put pressure on them,” he said.

He said that the UNHCR coordinated with the Lebanese Red Cross and the Health Ministry. He said that all children leaving were being vaccinated for polio, with 14 vaccinated so far.

Last Thursday over 200 Syrian refugees in the northeastern town of Arsal returned to Syria. In April another group of hundreds of Syrian refugees from southeastern Lebanon’s Shebaa left in buses to Syria’s Beit Jin, 10 kilometers east of the Lebanese-Syrian border.

“The position of UNHCR has not changed, ... as in Shebaa and Arsal. If families want to return we fully respect that,” Zapater noted, adding that the organization is doing what it can to “ensure the return happens in the best way possible.”

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