Read caption “Living in tents is very risky,” said Said Hilala, a Syrian refugee in an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley. A rat bite poisoned one of her children, but luckily, her child received medication at a nearby hospital. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC.

Welcoming a positive turn for refugees in Lebanon

Eline Anker|Published 31. May 2018
Although negative rhetoric and unlawful evictions escalated in late 2017, policy changes that give more refugees a chance at legal residency are reasons for optimism.

Lebanon has the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, hosting nearly 1.5 million refugees. Last year, the negative rhetoric towards Syrian refugees in Lebanon rose. In September 2017 at the UN General Assembly, the Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for commencing returns of refugees from Syria without the need to ensure that returns were voluntary.

"We, and virtually everybody else in the international community, maintain that the returns must be voluntary," says NRC's advocacy and information adviser in Lebanon, Mike Bruce.

Forced to move into sub-standard accommodation

As the government does not allow formal refugee camps, Syrian refugees settle in informal settlements or find private accommodation. Over 76 per cent of Syrians live below the national poverty line.

In 2017, there was an increase in unlawful evictions of Syrians living in Lebanese towns. Evictions have severe impact on the lives of the affected Syrian refugees.

"Often people have to pre-pay rent and if they are evicted they usually don't get that rent refunded at all," explains Mike Bruce.

With an extremely limited income, evicted families are forced to live in apartments, sub-standard or unfinished buildings, often with several families living together.

Read caption family has hung their clothes out to dry in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Syrians who are evicted from their apartments often have to move into sub-standard buildings in informal settlements. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC

More accepting towards refugees

In 2018, we have seen a positive turn. The negative rhetoric has subsided and there have been fewer evictions.

"This year, the political dialogue has been much more moderate towards refugees and return," says Bruce.

However, the conditions for refugees are still difficult.

Seventy four per cent of all Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not have legal residency and lack identification documents. They risk arrest and detention. Some have even dropped out of school out of fear of being arrested while travelling to school.

Improving juridical conditions for babies and youth

Though struggles to obtain legal residency continue for refugees, a positive development is that the government of Lebanon have recently made an effort to improve the legal situation for Syrians.

Previously, parents had to register their newborn babies within a 12-month timeframe to receive identity documents. This has frequently proved to be difficult and has resulted in thousands of children without birth certificates. However, in March 2018, the 12-month deadline was lifted for refugees from Syria, allowing all Syrian children born in Lebanon after January 2011 to be registered and to obtain identity documents.

Additionally, the government recently changed regulations to permit some Syrian youth aged 15 to 18 to obtain temporary residency, including youth who lack legal identity documents such as Syrian passports, by providing Individual Civil Extracts.

"These changes are all extremely positive, and very bold moves by the government of Lebanon," says Bruce.

Although it is still too early to say anything about the consequences of the policy changes, Bruce hopes these changes will improve the everyday lives of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and increase the number of Syrian refugee youth going to secondary school.

"Most significantly it's about removing the climate of insecurity and the risk of arrest they face every time they go out.

Read caption Eleven-year-old Nour attends an education programme in one of the informal settlements in the Bekaa Valley. Allowing more children and youth to obtain residency and identity documents, could potentially improve the attendance rates in school. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC