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Lebanon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of Palestinian refugees and Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugee populations.

As of June 30, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered more than one million Syrian refugees, 18,708 Iraqis, more than 2,200 Sudanese refugees, and refugees of other nationalities in the country. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provided assistance to Palestinian refugees registered in the country. While approximately 458,000 Palestinians registered as refugees with UNRWA in Lebanon, the estimated number actually living in Lebanon was between 260,000 and 280,000. UNRWA also provided services to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS). PRS in Lebanon numbered almost 33,000, according to a UNRWA count completed on October 2. According to a census carried out during the year jointly by the Lebanese and Palestinian Statistics Administrations, however, there were approximately 174,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Multiple NGOs and UNHCR shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by government, employers, and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage or nonconsensual sex for their daughters.

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. Additionally, LAF raids on settlements often resulted in harassment and destruction of personal property.

According to UNHCR, domestic courts often sentenced Iraqi and African refugees registered with 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 UNHCR.

In-country Movement: The government maintained security checkpoints, primarily in military and other restricted areas. Hizballah also maintained checkpoints in certain Shia-majority areas. Government forces were usually unable to enforce the law in the predominantly Hizballah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut and did not typically enter Palestinian refugee camps. According to UNRWA, Palestinian refugees registered with the Interior Ministry’s Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs could travel from one area of the country to another. The DGS, however, had to approve the transfer of registration of residence for refugees who resided in camps. UNRWA stated the DGS generally approved such transfers.

Prior to February authorities required Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR to pay a renewal fee of 300,000 Lebanese pounds ($200) for each person 15 years old or above, every 12 months if the person wished to remain lawfully in the country as a refugee. Syrian refugees who arrived in the country after January 2015 must have entered with a Lebanese sponsor. Most refugees had difficulty affording the fees. In February the DGS announced it was waiving the fee for residency renewal for refugees who registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship, tourism, property ownership, or tenancy in 2015 or 2016. While some DGS offices began implementing this change, the actual number of beneficiaries remained limited due to the low capacity of DGS offices, as well as divergent or inconsistent practices at the local levels.

Due to the slow implementation of the residency fee waiver and, in many cases, failure to obtain or keep a Lebanese sponsor, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of regular arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees met by foreign diplomats said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them. In March 2016 the United Nations’ joint household assessment of more than 100,000 refugee families indicated that 85 percent of refugee households had at least one member without legal status. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for Iraqi refugees and refugees of other nationalities.

Since 2014 entry visas for PRS were granted at the border only to persons with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Most of these individuals were issued a 24-hour transit visa. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured a visa for Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that approximately 3 percent of the PRS in the country arrived in 2016.

Compared to the policy applied to Syrian nationals, authorities applied tighter conditions to PRS (notwithstanding restrictions on Syrians announced in January 2015). For example, Syrian nationals could, in principle, enter with humanitarian visas, while this was not available to PRS. Some PRS consequently sought to enter the country through irregular border crossings, placing them at additional risk of exploitation and abuse and creating an obstacle to later regularizing their legal status.

On July 8, DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited extension of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delays. It applied to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016 and granted renewal of residency visas to those PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use documents that were easier to obtain in Lebanon rather than requiring children to return to Syria to obtain them. This latter point was not implemented for Syrian refugees. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings; PRS who entered the country through official border crossings, but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa; or PRS who were issued a departure order.

UNRWA estimated that as of September 2016 approximately 40 percent of PRS in the country did not hold valid legal residency.

On October 6, the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS was waived, expanding the application of a previous circular issued on September 12 applicable to Syrians.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom approximately 27,000 were registered Palestine refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where UNRWA services were available. As of October approximately 53 percent of displaced families returned to newly reconstructed apartments in Nahr el-Bared camp.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. According to UNHCR, authorities detained refugees and non-Syrian asylum seekers through June, of whom 148 remained in detention at the end of the year. Through August the DGS deported four persons despite UNHCR’s interventions. 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.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees.

Palestinian refugees were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land; they 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. This law was not fully implemented, however, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association.

As of June 30, there were more than one million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR. Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived in Lebanon after January 2015. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Many Syrian refugees resided with host families or in unfinished substandard buildings, and approximately 18 percent lived in temporary tent settlements, usually with dirt floors, no plumbing, and with a portable heater for winter. According to a UN study, the refugees borrowed to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt.

In 2015 new government regulations banned the entry of all Syrian refugees unless they qualified for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the government accepted Syrians seeking asylum only if they qualified under the “humanitarian exceptions” that the Ministry of Social Affairs reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions included unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

UNRWA reported that the DGS issued some PRS departure orders despite their having paid the renewal fee. Legal status in Lebanon was critical for protection, as it allowed refugees to pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, complete civil registration processes, and access and remain within the educational system.

In addition to more than 18,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees already residing in the country, there was a limited influx of Iraqi refugees who entered the country seeking to escape violence from the fight against ISIS. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered 3,530 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities usually enforced them on Syrian refugees only.

Evictions of Syrian refugees occurred in the aftermath of major security incidents and often targeted informal refugee settlements due to their proximity to LAF installations or vital supply routes. According to UNHCR, following the LAF order to evict settlements surrounding the Riyak Airbase in the Bekaa Valley in March, 557 Syrian refugee households (estimated 3,175 individuals) from this area reportedly relocated elsewhere in the country. In addition to the evictions in the Riyak area, Zahle municipality also issued eviction notices to Syrian refugee families starting in the first quarter and continuing in the second quarter of the year.

Employment: During the year authorities began requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning.

The law allows 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).

Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country had 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 past conflicts. In accordance with agreements with the government, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) security committees provided security for refugees in the camps, with the exception of the Nahr el-Bared camp.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp and surrounding communities in eight stages began in 2008 and was in process. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, however, and a shortfall of 159 million Lebanese pounds ($106 million) remained at year’s end. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the crisis, authorities expected approximately 21,000 to return.

A 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons explicitly excluded from resettling in the country from owning land and property was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs, but 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 after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to 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.

Palestinian refugees who fled Syria to Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics. UNRWA’s verification exercise in 2016 found that there were approximately 32,500 PRS recorded with the agency, which reflected a decrease of more than 10,000 PRS in the country over the previous 12 months.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of 195,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools in the 2016-17 academic year, or 41 percent of the more than 488,000 registered Syrian refugee children between the ages of three and 18. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many government and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. UNHCR’s education partners reported that authorities enrolled approximately 600 Iraqi children in formal public schools for the 2016-17 school year, 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. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care.

STATELESS PERSONS

Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and, increasingly, Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. The problem was compounded since nonnational status was a hereditary circumstance that stateless persons passed to their children. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.

Approximately 3,000 Palestinian refugees were not registered with UNRWA or the government. Also known as undocumented Palestinians, most of these individuals moved to the country after the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in 1971. Palestinians faced restrictions on movement and lacked access to fundamental rights under the law. Undocumented Palestinians, who were not registered in other fields, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of undocumented Palestinians were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.

The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs continued to extend late registration to Palestinian refugee children under age 10. It was previously the directorate’s policy to deny late birth registration to Palestinian refugee children who were above age two. Children between 10 and 20 years old were registered only after the following were completed: a DNA test, an investigation by the DGS, and the approval of the directorate.

Approximately 1,000 to 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities denied them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and other obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 due to a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.

Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, and own or inherit property.

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