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The New Arab

Hundreds of refugees leave Lebanon in 'voluntary return' to Syria

UNHCR said it was aware of the impending return of up to 500 refugees. [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 April, 2018

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Men, women and children loaded their possessions onto dozens of buses early on Wednesday for the journey back to Syria via the Masnaa border crossing.

Hundreds of Syrian refugees departed Lebanon's south-eastern Shebaa for Syria on Wednesday in the first organised and allegedly voluntary transfer of civilians from the area.

Men, women and children loaded their possessions onto dozens of buses early on Wednesday for the journey back to Syria via the Masnaa border crossing, Lebanese officials said.

The transfer comes after numerous calls from Lebanese leaders for Syrian refugees to return to areas of the war-torn country now deemed safe.

President Michel Aoun said that the return of refugees to Syria would help to bring "social stability" to Lebanon.

The refugees had made the decision voluntarily to return to Syria, UN officials told Lebanon's Daily Star, with unconfirmed reports that the convoy would head towards Beit Jinn, a regime-held town southwest of Damascus.

The UN's refugee agency was aware of the impending return of up to 500 refugees, a statement said.

"UNHCR is not involved in the organisation of these returns or other returns at this point, considering the prevailing humanitarian and security situation in Syria," the statement read.

Staff from the refugee agency in Syria would seek to access refugees in areas to which they return, a UNHCR spokeswoman told the Daily Star.

Earlier this year international aid groups on Monday warned countries hosting Syrian refugees in the Middle East and the West against forcibly returning them to Syria.

Several leading humanitarian organisations warned that three times as many Syrians were displaced last year and that a further 1.5 million people were expected to be forced from their homes in 2018 as war rages on in Syria.

Lebanon, a country of four million, hosts just under a million Syrians who have sought refuge from the war in their neighbouring homeland since 2011.

Many Lebanese hold deeply rooted prejudices towards Syrians, some as a legacy of the Syrian army's nearly 30-year presence in the country. For others it is said to be out of fear refugees will take lower-income jobs and put people out of work.

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