Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. As a result, 41 percent of non-Syrian and 12 percent of Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR did not have any legal status and could be arrested. Nonetheless, the government provided some protection through interim arrangements. The government granted admission and temporary (six-month) refuge to asylum seekers but not permanent asylum. The DGS sometimes arbitrarily detained asylum seekers at its detention facility for more than one year before eventually deporting them.
A 2003 agreement between the DGS and the UNHCR recognizes and grants protection to non-Palestinian refugees, providing temporary relief for those seeking determination of refugee status. Those wishing to claim refugee status must do so within two months of arriving in the country. The DGS issued residence permits, valid for three months, during which time the UNHCR had to make a refugee status determination. The DGS issued residency permits for up to 12 months to persons to whom the UNHCR accorded refugee status and who applied and paid for the permit. Refugees receiving residency permits continued to be required to apply and pay fees for permit renewal. This requirement did not apply to Palestinian refugees from Syria. The number of Palestinians refugees fleeing from Syria increased sharply in 2012, and UNRWA expressed concern about the continued safety of this population as their one-year temporary residency permits expired. Both Syrians and Palestinian refugees had to pay the 300,000 Lebanese pound ($200) fee for a six-month or temporary residency permit, which could be renewed for another six months free of charge, after the one-year permit expired.
There was a huge influx of Syrians who entered Lebanon to escape escalating violence after the start of mass unrest in Syria in 2011. While some Syrians settled in temporary tent settlements, the majority resided with host families, who were not always direct family or friends of the refugees. As of November 15, there were an estimated 816,000 Syrians receiving services from the UNHCR. The government did not officially recognize these persons as refugees, and it limited freedom of movement for individuals who entered the country illegally. There were no refugee camps for Syrians.
Refoulement: In contrast to previous years, there were no reported cases of refoulement.
Refugee Abuse: Syrian refugees residing inside the border near Syria faced danger from cross-border shelling and reported Syrian army incursions into the country.
According to the UNHCR, domestic courts often sentenced Iraqi and African refugees officially registered with the UNHCR to one month’s imprisonment and fines instead of deporting them for illegal entry. After serving their sentences, most refugees remained in detention unless they found employment sponsors and the DGS agreed to release them in coordination with the UNHCR.
According to the ISF, as of December 17, three foreign detainees had completed their sentences and were awaiting deportation by the DGS or regularization of their situation in the country.
Employment: The law does not distinguish between refugees and other aliens. Authorities allowed non-Palestinian refugees residing in the country legally to work in certain sectors, provided they had a sponsor for a work permit and could pay the associated fees.
The law permits Syrians to work and to open businesses after obtaining proper licenses. On July 29, joint teams from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Economy began to take action against unlicensed Syrian businesses. The ISF identified 377 illegal businesses operated by Syrians. The majority of these businesses were small stores or fruit stands. Anecdotal evidence indicated that the government was taking action against such businesses, but business owners addressed the problem by obtaining the required licenses. Syrian refugees complained that authorities forced them to obtain the required licenses but did not enforce the same laws against Lebanese.
In 2010 parliament amended the social security law, creating a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retired or resigned. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation). The law calculates benefits only from August 2010 onward.
Access to Basic Services: The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners, and in several instances they received poorer treatment than other foreign nationals. This discrimination was particularly true for women. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to the 441,543 registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a four-fold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which were heavily damaged during multiple conflicts. In accordance with their agreement, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) security committees, not the government, provided security for refugees in the camps, with the exception of the Nahr el-Bared camp.
During the year Nahr el Bared camp residents protested the reduction of health benefits to levels provided to residents before the camp’s destruction in 2007. UNRWA periodically closed its facilities due to concern for staff safety.
Property laws directly and effectively exclude Palestinians due to a 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons without the nationality of a recognized state from owning land and property. Palestinians who owned property prior to the law entering into force are unable to bequeath it to their heirs, and individuals who were in the process of purchasing property in installments were unable to register the property.
Palestinian refugees residing in the country were not able to obtain citizenship and were not citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to citizens were able to obtain citizenship and transmit citizenship to their children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to public health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.
Palestinians who fled Syria received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter clothing vouchers. Authorities permitted their children to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics. There were approximately 50,600 Palestinians from Syria registered with the agency at year’s end.
Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. The UNHCR reported that 600 Iraqi children were registered in public schools, and it provided grants to the children’s families to help defray the costs associated with attending school. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. The UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care.
Syrians who fled to Lebanon had access to the public education system. The Ministry of Education facilitated their enrollment in public schools, and the UNHCR covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. The UNHCR arranged with the Ministries of Social Affairs and Public Health for registered Syrians to access designated public health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and the organization covered the bulk of the costs. The large influx of refugees placed extreme burdens on the previously overstretched services, which could not accommodate all Syrian refugees.
A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el Bared refugee camp and surrounding communities in eight stages, begun in 2008, was in process, but remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, and only 55 percent of the required donations had been secured by year’s end.
The government did not consider local integration of other refugees, such as Iraqis, a viable durable solution.
Temporary Protection: After Syrians and Palestinians, Iraqis were the third largest group of refugees in the country. The government did not provide a temporary protection regime for asylum seekers, and it regularly deported refugees and asylum seekers who may have had valid claims to protected status. According to the UNHCR there were 217 refugees and asylum seekers in detention as of October 31. Also as of October 31, the DGS deported nine persons despite objections by the UNHCR. Of the nine individuals, five had refugee status and four were asylum seekers.
The UNHCR continued to intervene with authorities to request the release of persons of concern who were detained either beyond their sentence or for illegal entry/stay.
At year’s end, 5,856 Iraqis were registered with the UNHCR. The Danish Refugee Council estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 Iraqis were living in the country; many entered the country illegally in search of jobs, education, and security. During the year the government provided limited services for Iraqi refugees. The DGS did not grant a grace period during the year for foreigners who had fallen into illegal status to allow them to regularize their residency in the country.