The Government of Lebanon estimates that the country hosts 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the conflict in their home country (of which 1.07 million refugees are registered by the
Lebanon is not equipped with formal domestic refugee legislation in place; however, it upholds its internal commitment to the customary law and non-refoulement principle.
Living Conditions of Refugees in Lebanon
Currently, 41 percent of the displaced Syrian population live in substandard shelter conditions such as informal settlements, unfinished structures or inadequate shelters lacking basic services and ill-equipped for adverse weather conditions. In addition, increasing numbers of families are squeezed into overcrowded apartments. Approximately three percent of these households are currently at risk of eviction because of many reasons including the lack of work opportunities, the absence of income sources, and being cut off from humanitarian assistance. The number of informal settlements has increased significantly to 2.365 as of November 2015. About 18 percent of the Syrian refugee population still live in informal settlements, mainly located in rural areas in the provinces Baalbek-Hermel and Bekaa in East Lebanon (65 percent) as well as in ‘Akkar, in Northern Lebanon. Many inhabitants of informal settlements require comprehensive assistance ranging from electricity, water supply, solid waste and drainage management to a provision of hygiene items.
The general policy of the Government of Lebanon requires that services in informal settlements are provided only on a temporary basis (such as water trucking and de-sludging). Municipal spending on waste disposal has increased by 40 percent since 2011. Therefore, the Ministry of Energy and Water is studying alternative efficient solutions for the provision of electricity, water, wastewater management and solid waste management that would preserve national water and environmental resources and are in line with the government's policy. Syrians that have settled with host communities (82 percent) are concentrated in densely populated urban centers, particularly in already impoverished neighborhoods and in poorly developed urban areas where access to essential electricity, water and wastewater services is insufficient.
Impact of Refugee Presence on Lebanese Economy and Society
Prior to 2012, the infrastructures and services related to the energy and water sector in Lebanon were already negatively impacted by years of conflict and instability, resulting in poor overall management of these public services and resources. After years of displacement, the refugee population has started to put considerable strain on already overstretched and deficient services. The crisis in Syria and the subsequent demographic and economic impact on Lebanon have overstretched the sub-national government institutions and local communities' capacities to cope with and respond to the displacement effects. Surveys show that wages in agriculture and construction have dropped, while rental costs and other costs of living have increased significantly. The greatest challenges have to be met in the most vulnerable and deprived parts of the country which are hosting the largest numbers of displaced persons from Syria. The government has struggled to manage the Syrian influx, but it still lacks the financial and infrastructural capacity or political will to deal with the crisis.
Pre-existing sectarian tensions and divisions between local communities have reignited about how to handle the sudden influx of Syrian refugees in their areas of residence. Occasionally, these tensions resulted in open violence. Moreover, increasing competition over limited opportunities has started to generate frustrations among some communities. Curfews imposed on refugees in local villages, raid operations in some of the refugee locations, and evictions of refugee families are signals of the fatigue in hosting such a large number of refugees. Affected communities claim that the refugee presence further creates increased environmental pollution. There are concerns over poor solid waste management as well as increased security concerns. Women, children and older persons in refugee and host communities are first in line to face the associated protection risks. Youths face many challenges, including access to education and unemployment. All children in Lebanon (between age three and 19) have the right to education. Yet, not all of them are enrolled in schools, i. a. due to lacking capacities. As of December 2015, 157.000 Syrian children have been enrolled for the 2015-2016 academic year.
Policy Changes with Regard to Syrian Refugees
During the first three years of the Syrian conflict, the borders between Lebanon and Syria were open. Since 2014, stricter border regulations have been introduced, leading to a significant reduction in the admission of persons in need of international protection arriving from Syria. In October 2014, the Government of Lebanon adopted a policy paper on Syrian displacement in Lebanon. This paper entered into force in January 2015, and measures in line with the policy have gradually been put into place. New border regulations were introduced for Syrian nationals limiting admission to Lebanon under certain categories including tourism, study, business and transit, and requiring documentary evidence of the stated reason of entry. The 'displaced' category for Syrians wishing to enter is limited to exceptional humanitarian cases, in line with criteria developed by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
In May 2015, the Government of Lebanon informed UNHCR that all new registrations would be suspended until a government-led mechanism to deal with those who seek registration was established. Since then, persons displaced from Syria who approach UNHCR have been and are counseled on existing regulations and have their specific needs assessed and recorded in order to assist the most vulnerable, but without receiving a UNHCR certificate. The stricter policy of the Lebanese government on the issue of the Syrian refugees is still short of embarking on a policy of deporting unwanted Syrians back to Syria.
Residency regulations introduced in January 2015 have added new requirements for the renewal and regularization of residency permits of Syrians (whether registered by UNHCR or not) in Lebanon. Among other things, they now have to sign a pledge not to work, need to prove that they have a Lebanese sponsor and must pay a fee of $200 per person per year (applies to all persons above 15 years of age) in order to have their residency permit renewed and their stay legalized.
The Lebanese sponsor category is divided into three subgroups:
The first subgroup consists of people who pledge to take responsibility for the Syrian person wanting to enter Lebanon for a short visit only. The sponsorship in this case will not cost the Lebanese sponsor any money, and the Syrian person will be issued a seven-day permit for a visit renewable for another seven days. Registered companies or organizations can also sponsor Syrians for a short visit; the latter will be issued a maximum of a one-month residency permit.
The second category is made up of people who pledge to take responsibility for their sponsored persons who can enter the Lebanese territories for work purposes. This sponsorship costs $200. Accordingly, the Syrian applicant will be issued a six-month residency permit and the employer will sign a commitment to obtain a work visa from the Ministry of Labor for the sponsored Syrian.
The third group of sponsors pledges to take responsibility for a Syrian, but not for work purposes. The sponsor pays $200 for each visa and as a result, the Syrian (and his family) will be issued a six-month residency permit (this option also applies to the family of a Syrian who enters Lebanon for work purposes). Refugees fall under this category and thus have to find themselves a sponsor. If they are registered by UNHCR, they can use their UNHCR certificate as proof of having a sponsor. UNHCR, however, does not pay the fees for the renewal of residence permits. It only provides counseling and advocacy on existing regulations and policies. The renewal process is complicated and difficult to accomplish for refugees. That is why most of them lack residency permits.
In addition to the requirements for sponsoring, Syrians not only have to present a lease agreement, but also have to obtain a "housing commitment" document – which is a pledge issued by the owner of the property where the Syrian refugee lives – in order to be issued a residence permit. It should be accompanied by a certificate issued by the municipality or the mukhtar (head of village) stating that the property belongs to the Lebanese person signing the commitment. This document serves as an official proof that the Syrian family lives in a certain area and a certain village. If the landlord, due to some technical issues, is not able to issue this pledge, then the municipality issues one on his/her behalf.
Syrians who enter the country under a sponsor category that is not related to employment purposes have to sign a statutory declaration containing a pledge not to work at a public notary. This document has to be presented for the renewal of residency permits. Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR are not exempted from this requirement. Syrians entering Lebanon under this category need to show the following documents: ID, passport, family booklet (if accompanied by family members), lease agreement for residential premises registered at the municipality and Government Security Office (GSO) and a proof of their ability to sustain their livelihood.
Conditions for Renewal of Residence Permits of Syrian Refugees
The duration of the temporary residency permit for Syrians registered by UNHCR is issued according to the expiry date of the UNHCR registration card, if it was less than six months. This means if the UNHCR registration certificate expires in four months, the residency permit will be issued for only four months. If the registration card is valid for more than six months, the residency permit will be automatically renewed for another six months. These conditions for renewing the residency permit apply to all Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR. Apart from presenting their identity cards, applicants also have to present the documents supplied and signed by the sponsor or the UNHCR certificate. Syrians who do not have any identification are issued a receipt and given ten days to acquire the necessary documents.
It is clear that Lebanon was, and still is, not equipped to accommodate 1.5 million displaced persons, all of whom require additional services. The government as well as national and international organizations are doing their best to deliver integrated approaches, mutually reinforcing humanitarian and stabilization interventions. Especially since the beginning of the refugee crisis in Europe, more funds have been allocated to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon in form of humanitarian assistance (winter assistance, cash assistance, medical coverage, etc.) as a way to prevent Syrian refugees from leaving Lebanon towards Europe. In this regard, it should be emphasized that the political ramifications of the Syrian refugee presence in Lebanon are not fully addressed.