Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. As a result observers estimated 37 percent of Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR lacked 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 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. Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugees had to pay a fee of 300,000 lira ($200) 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. Starting May 22, the DGS granted a one-month grace period for Palestinian refugees from Syria to regularize their illegal status. As of August 21, the DGS also granted Syrian refugees a three-month grace period relieving those who resided illegally and wished to return to Syria of the regularization fee and residency fee. Nevertheless, many refugees reported officials denied them a visa after paying the fees, and some reported being detained while attempting to regularize their status. As the crisis continued, the DGS renewed fewer visas and residency permits. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the DGS refused visa renewals for refugees working without work permits in agriculture and construction, despite the Labor Ministry not requiring and, therefore, not issuing, work permits for this type of labor for Syrians. Additionally, the DGS reportedly offered legal status to Syrians and Palestinians who did not enter through official crossings but did not offer any additional extension after the visa expired.
A huge influx of Syrians entered the country to escape escalating violence after the start of mass unrest in Syria in 2011. While some Syrians lived in temporary tent settlements, the majority resided with host families, who were not always direct family or friends of the refugees. As of October 31, there were 1,123,150 Syrians registered or awaiting registration with the UNHCR. The government did not officially recognize these persons as refugees, and it limited freedom of movement of individuals who entered the country illegally. There were no official refugee camps for Syrians; however, a small UNHCR site in Arsal was referred to as a “formal settlement.” Multiple NGOs and the UNHCR shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation by government employers and landlords of refugees, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage or nonconsensual sex.
There was also an influx of Iraqi refugees who entered the country seeking to escape violence from the fight against ISIL. As of November 28, there were 13,122 Iraqi refugees registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon
While 490,405 refugees were officially registered with UNRWA (approximately 10 percent of the country’s population), many estimated the number of Palestinian refugees to be less than 300,000 due to emigration. One-half of refugees were under age 25, two-thirds were food insecure and lived below the poverty line, one-third suffered from chronic illness, and the school drop-out rate of secondary students (students between ages 16 and18) was more than 50 percent. Palestinian refugees were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land, and were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 labor law revision expanded employment rights and removed some restrictions on Palestinian refugees; however, this law was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association.
Refoulement: On May 3, the DGS forced 49 Palestinian refugees from Syria to return to Syria after clarifying that authorities arrested them at the airport for using forged documents in attempted onward travel outside the country.
Refugee Abuse: Syrian refugees residing inside the border near Syria faced danger from cross-border shelling and from Syrian army incursions into the country. In August, ISIL conducted an offensive in Arsal, a major gathering point for refugees. During the battle witnesses reported ISIL burned refugee shelters.
The government lacked the capacity to provide adequate protection for refugees. Refugees regularly reported abuse by members of political parties and gangs, often without official action in response.
According to the UNHCR, domestic courts often sentenced Iraqi and African refugees 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 November 11, two foreign detainees 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. The Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of Economy and Trade, in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, identified 1,196 unlicensed Syrian businesses operating in the country; 377 in the Beqaa region were closed. The majority of these businesses were small stores or fruit stands. Anecdotal evidence indicated the government was taking action against such businesses, but business owners responded to the problem by obtaining the required licenses. Syrian refugees complained authorities forced them to obtain the required licenses but did not enforce the same laws against Lebanese citizens.
A 2010 amendment to the social security law created 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 provides for benefits only from 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 490,405 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 agreements with the government, 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.
The UN Children’s Fund estimated approximately 400,000 Syrian children in the country did not attend school.
A 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons who are explicitly excluded from resettling in the country from owning land and property is designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned property prior to the law entering into force were 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 could not obtain citizenship and were not citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese 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 44,000 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 739 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.
Syrian refugees 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 number of refugees placed extreme burdens on the 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 were secured by year’s end.
The government did not consider local integration of other refugees, such as Iraqis, a viable durable solution. After Syrians and Palestinians, Iraqis were the third largest group of refugees in the country.
Temporary Protection: 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 478 refugees and asylum seekers in detention as of September 30. Also, as of October 31, the DGS deported 12 persons despite UNHCR objections. Of the 12 individuals, four had refugee status and eight 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 or presence.
As of October 31, there were 9,518 Iraqi refugees registered with the UNHCR. The government provided limited services for Iraqi refugees.