BEIRUT — Human Rights Watch on Tuesday criticized Lebanon for refusing entry to Palestinians from Syria and forcibly returning them to the war-torn country.

It accused Beirut of “arbitrarily” denying Palestinians entry and documented the deportation of around 40 Palestinians accused of having forged documents.

The Lebanese government has not announced a blanket ban on the entry of Palestinians from Syria, but government sources confirm a general policy to keep out Palestinians fleeing the conflict.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source said the government felt that Palestinian refugees registered in Syria should stay in that country.

But HRW said the Lebanese government was violating international law by sending civilians back to an active war zone.

“The Lebanese government should urgently rescind its decision to bar Palestinians from Syria from entering Lebanon,” the group said in a statement.

“Lebanon is turning people back without adequately considering the dangers they face,” the New York-based organization added.

The group said the Palestinians seeking to enter Lebanon from a crossing with Syria had been “arbitrarily denied entry” over the weekend.

At the same time, a General Security official told AFP that 41 people, many of them Palestinians, were returned to Syria after they were caught trying to fly out from Beirut airport using fake visas.

“Eight were allowed to stay because they have Palestinian Lebanese relatives here, or other documentation that allows them to be here,” said the official.

Lebanon is already hosting more than one million registered Syrian refugees. Among them are 52,000 Palestinian Syrians.

Once numbering 500,000 in Syria, Palestinians have been caught in Syria’s conflict and targeted by both sides in the war, making them one of the country’s most vulnerable groups, rights groups say.

But Lebanon is also home to around 422,000 Palestinian refugees, whose presence in the country remains a source of tension.

Unlike Jordan and Turkey, which also host a large number of Syrian refugees, Lebanon refuses to set up camps for people fleeing Syria’s war.

Some politicians have cited the semi-permanent status of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon dating all the way back to the 1948 establishment of Israel as the reason why Lebanon does not want to set up more camps.

The international community has praised the tiny Mediterranean country, which has a population of just four million, for absorbing so many of those fleeing Syria.

And while HRW criticised Lebanon for returning Palestinian refugees to Syria, the group urged foreign governments to better assist Beirut in hosting refugees.

“The Lebanese government is bearing an incomparable burden with the Syrian refugees crossing its borders, but blocking Palestinians from Syria is mishandling the situation,” HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Stork said.