Since the beginning of the recent crises in the Middle East, over 1.100,000 registered refugees have come to Lebanon; who almost exclusively hail from Syria. As of 6 May 2015, UNHCR Lebanon has temporarily suspended new registration of Syrian refugees as per the Government of Lebanon’s instructions. Since then, the numbers of registered Syrian refugees have been slightly decreasing.
The Government of Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention related to the status of refugees or its 1967 Protocol. Lebanon implements some provisions of the Convention on a voluntary basis and considers that granting the refugee status to individuals lies within its margin of discretion. Yet the government of Lebanon stresses that Lebanon is not a country of Asylum, a final destination of refugees, or a country of resettlement. Accordingly, it generally refers to individuals that fled from Syria since 2011 as ‘displaced’, as ‘persons registered as refugees by UNHCR’ or as ‘de facto refugees’.
Since late January 2015, residence renewal procedures for registered refugees have been changed and various financial and bureaucratic obstacles have been introduced, which make residence renewal a very difficult quest. As a result, there is a grave risk that most refugees will gradually lose their legal status in the country, and the number of Syrians without valid residence papers has increased. Although Syrians with expired or without legal stats are legally required to leave the country, the GoL has not enforced the deportation of Syrian refugees to date. Nevertheless, refoulement due to rejection at the border is a significant concern.
In socio-economic terms, the 2015 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR) has highlighted an increase in vulnerabilities compared to 2014. Syrian refugee households show stronger degrees of dependency on external livelihood sources like food vouchers, loans and credits. In addition, the percentage of households below the poverty line (3.84$/person/day) has increased from 50% to 70%. However, funding shortfalls have led to a drastic and continuing reduction in humanitarian cash- and in-kind assistance since the end of 2013, which is now estimated to only cover 5-10% of registered refugees. Most recently, the World Food Programme (WFP) cut the value of its food aid by 50% in July 2015, now providing only US$13.50 per person per month.
After years of an unstable government and the absence of any sustainable government response, the Lebanese government formed a Crisis Cell to deal with the Syrian crisis in mid-2014. In Oct 2014, the government issued a policy paper, which sets three priorities for managing the displacement crisis: 1) reducing the number of refugees, 2) providing more security, and 3) reducing the economic burden for Lebanon, e.g. by preventing Syrians from working unlawfully, and by directing more crisis-related funding to Lebanese institutions, communities, and infrastructure.
In December 2014, the Ministry of Labour listed professions confined to Lebanese citizens, but excluded agriculture, cleaning and construction (3 sectors in which many Syrians work) from it. It also introduced a new requirement for sponsorship for Syrian workers.
The impact of the crisis
The presence of so many refugees has been a huge economic strain on Lebanon’s resources. Increased combat activities in Syria have also negatively impacted on the security situation in Lebanon, which a recent UNHCR report describes as “tense, volatile and highly unpredictable”, especially in the Northern and North-Eastern parts of the country.
Employment: Despite the official restrictions on working, many refugees work informally. Lebanese often perceive Syrians as competitors for jobs.
Housing: While there are no officials refugee camps, many refugees live in informal tented settlements, as well as in (often substandard and overcrowded) urban apartments and shelters. With less available income, more and more refugees move into very substandard shelter (e.g. unfinished buildings).
Refugees in host communities
The protracted nature of the Syrian crisis and its negative, real or perceived, impact on the living conditions of Lebanese, who, at first, welcomed refugees, has changed the stance of many among the Lebanese host community. Syrian refugees are scapegoated for a variety of issues that have, in fact, characterised Lebanon for many years, such as dysfunctional infrastructure or economic hardship. The belief that Syrians constitute a security threat is also constantly reiterated by Lebanese politicians and media. Real or imagined, this public and media discourse has led to increased attack on Syrians in Lebanon. In a recent survey (June 2015), 43% of Syrian refugees reported incidents with authorities or civilians: Raids and searches, harassment, insults, detention, beating, and extortion.
Attacks on Syrians in Lebanon: Scapegoating, par excellence: http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/21557
Survey on Perceptions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, August 2015: http://www.sciences-po.usj.edu.lb/pdf/Executive%20Summary.pdf
Since the Regional Refugee and Resilience Response Plan issued in Dec 2014, the Lebanese government formally takes the lead in the crisis response. Overall, governmental responsibility remains with the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The UNHCR is the leading organisation that works in cooperation with the Lebanese government Crisis Cell, other UN agencies and NGOs in providing support for the refugees.
UNHCR works in collaboration with the following Implementing partners:
Government agencies: Ministry of Social Affairs
NGOs: Action Against Hunger, Agence d’aide à la coopération technique et au développement, Al Majmoua, Amel Association, AJEM, Caritas Migrant Centre, Cooperative Housing Foundation, Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli, Concern, Global Communities, Cooperazione Internationale, Danish Refugee Council, Dar El Fatwa, International Alert, International Medical Corps, International Orthodox Christian Charities, International Relief and Development, International Rescue Committee, INTERSOS, Islamic Relief, Makhzoumi Foundation, Medair, Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Polish Center for International Aid, Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale, RESTART, Right To Play, Save the Children International, Search for Common Ground, SHIELD, Solidar, Terre des Hommes, War Child Holland, World Vision International
Others: UNDP, UN-HABITAT, UNOPS, WHO
Its operating partners are:
Government agencies: High Relief Commission, Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Ministry of the Interior and Municipalities, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Health
NGOs: ActionAid Denmark, ALPHA, Associazione Volontari per il Servizio Internazionale, Center for Victims of Torture, Fundación Promocíon Social de la Cultura, GVC/Muslim Aid, Handicap International, Heartland Alliance International, Lebanese Red Cross, Makassed, Médecins du Monde, Refugee Education Trust, Relief International, René Moawad Foundation, Safadi Foundation, Terre des Hommes Lausanne, World Rehabilitation Fund, YMCA
Others: FAO, ICRC, IFRC, ILO, IOM, Lebanese Red Cross, OCHA, OHCHR, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF,UNODC, UNRWA, UNSCOL, UNWOMEN, WFP
UNHCR’s funding appeal for Lebanon amounts to $1,973,915,014 for 2015. As of Sept 22, 2015, only 35% of its funding requirements are covered.