Some refugees who have gone back to Syria from Lebanon the Assad regime killed, detained or forced to join the military. All acts of terror that deter others from returning, a Lebanese Cabinet minister said Tuesday. Assad terror slows refugees return says Lebanon Minister.

Minister of State for Refugees Affairs Mouin Merhebi told The Associated Press that 20 refugees have been killed since refugee started returning from Lebanon in June.

Merhebi said that so far about 12,000 Syrian refugees have returned home from Lebanon since June. His numbers are much lower than those released by Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, which says more than 87,000 have returned.

Merhebi, who is a harsh critic of the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, said some of those who registered as returnees go back and forth between the two neighboring countries.

Either way, it’s a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands who fled to Lebanon to escape the civil war, which began in 2011.

Syria’s seven-year conflict has displaced nearly half the country’s population, with an estimated 6 million internally displaced and 5.6 million fleeing to neighboring countries and Europe, and registering with the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Assad Terror Slows Refugees Return

Merhebi said:

What we are sure about is nearly 20 (got killed) and there are three cases that I personally documented and I spoke with their relatives and received their photos. Such acts discourage Syrian refugees from returning home,

As he flipped through his smartphone showing photos of three young men who he said the Assad regime killed; apparently in their village near the Lebanon border after crossing into Syria. His information about Syrians Chemical Assad killed back home came from relatives residing in Lebanon. Assad terror slows refugees return.

The Syrian opposition said the Assad regime detained some 700 refugees since June. Of those, 370 remain in custody. Many refugees experienced torture during detention.

Merhebi said that at the height of the war the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon reached 1.2 million. The number represents about a quarter of Lebanon’s population. He said the number now is about 940,000, after some refugees returned to Syria. Many the U.N resettled in other countries.

Russia and the Syrian government have been encouraging refugees to repatriate, arguing that the violence has subsided. Russia launched military operations to help Chemical Assad’s forces in 2015, changing the tide of the war in his favor.

West Predicts Chemical Assad Persecution and Terror

Western governments say it’s too early to encourage return. Rights groups and the U.N. fear refugees would face persecution returning to Syria in the absence of a comprehensive political agreement.

Merhebi accused Hezbollah of ethnic cleansing in the region alongside mostly-Shiite areas on the Lebanese side of the border.

He added:

Hezbollah contributed to the destruction of Syrian cities and towns and killed and displaced Syrians. The moment Syrian refugees hear that Hezbollah is registering names they get terrified… This is having negative effects.

AP contributed to this article.

Assad Terror Slows Refugees Return Says Lebanon Minister

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