a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but in July 2020 a coalition of 60 NGOs cited what they characterized as an upward trend in restrictions on freedom of expression, especially on social media, particularly regarding political and social topics.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limit this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the security forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute.
On January 15, LAF Intelligence Directorate personnel surrounded the al-Jadeed television news station in an attempt to arrest journalist Radwan Mortada, who writes for pro-Hizballah newspaper al-Akhbar and independent outlet al-Jadeed. Mortada was summoned by the Military Court for allegedly insulting the army and fabricating crimes against the military establishment. Press syndicates, NGOs, and various journalists called for Mortada’s case to be transferred to the civilian Publications Court, which has jurisdiction over defamation cases. Mortada declined to submit to LAF questioning, and Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat withdrew the arrest warrant after summoning Mortada, noting it was inappropriate for the LAF to summon a civilian journalist. The Military Court issued a ruling in absentia against Mortada and on November 26 sentenced him to 13 months’ imprisonment. The Military Court had not taken action to arrest Mortada by year’s end.
In January 2020 the ISF Cybercrimes Bureau questioned journalist and activist Nidal Ayoub regarding posters she carried during protests displaying slogans such as, “God is great, but the revolution is greater.” Ayoub was previously the subject of a smear campaign in 2019 during which she was accused of working for Israel; she faced numerous threats and insults after her address was released on social media. In response Ayoub filed a defamation lawsuit against the alleged instigator of the smear campaign, who has yet to be called for questioning. The alleged instigator responded by filing a countersuit accusing Ayoub of having attacked the president, the sovereignty of the state, and religion. The courts had not taken up the lawsuits by year’s end.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: A law on print media holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The law further contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. This law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications.
There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. No specific law regulates online speech. The law does, however, contain restrictions on expression, such as defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Authorities are accordingly able to prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online under various authorities including cybercrime statues. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison as well as a fine.
The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events, as well as any broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers to broadcast any type of political news or programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that harm the state or its relations with foreign countries. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face intimidation and harassment. Political tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically affiliated” areas to report without removing brandings and logos identifying the outlets.
Journalists covering protests were on several occasions attacked or harassed by rioters and security forces. On January 18, Hizballah supporters launched a harassment campaign against journalist Kassem Kassir, defaming him and accusing him of treason. The harassment stemmed from his January 6 appearance on the NBN television show Ninety Minutes when his remark that Hizballah should distance itself from Iran circulated online. The station then deleted the episode from its website, while Kassir was forced to issue an apology and clarify his remarks on his Facebook account.
On January 25, the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom reported that ISF riot police officers assaulted Ibrahim Fatfat, a reporter with online news website Sawt Beirut International while he was covering the January 25 Tripoli protests. ISF officers allegedly beat Fatfat with batons, kicked him in the head, and broke his camera. Footage of the assault was posted on social media.
On April 13, the Court of Appeals refiled a summons against Nidaa al-Watan newspaper and its editor, Bechara Charbel, resurfacing charges of offending the president, which were originally levied in 2019.
On June 28, Hizballah detained and released two accredited foreign journalists, Briton Matt Kynaston, who worked for media outlet NOW Lebanon, and German Stella Manner, for filming long lines at a gas station located in Hizballah’s stronghold of Beirut’s southern suburbs. Hizballah told media the two journalists did not have permission to enter the area. They were later transferred to the DGS and released.
Authorities continued to prosecute online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law. Prosecutors sometimes referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion, but more often they referred such cases to the Publications Court. Publications Court cases typically remained open for a year or more and ended with fines or dismissal.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities selectively applied elements of the law that permit censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may also review and censor any foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews were mostly for explicit, pornographic content. The law prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content regarding the country’s officially recognized religious groups or content that may provoke sectarian feuds. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship.
The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines may result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine. Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contains material that violates the law, including material considered a threat to national security, the DGS may legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. Publishing without prior approval a book that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.
Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request that the DGS ban a book. The government may prosecute offending journalists and publications in the Publications Court. According to NGOs as of September 29, each of the 30 book-banning cases the government registered in the Publications Court in 2017 – mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens – remained in the process of being resolved. Authorities occasionally also referred such cases to criminal courts, a process not established in law.
Libel/Slander Laws: In most cases criminal courts heard libel and other defamation complaints, which may carry sentences of one to three years in prison but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and political figures or their representatives filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. Human rights NGO ALEF reported that in several dozen cases during the year, criminal defamation suits were filed against journalists, bloggers, political activists, and private citizens, including for posting their opinions in WhatsApp groups or on Facebook. While these cases rarely, if ever, resulted in prolonged detentions or jail sentences, interrogations by police and lengthy, expensive trials reportedly created a chilling effect on political speech.
In June 2020 DGS personnel detained activist brother and sister Bandar el-Khatib and Kinda el-Khatib in Halba, Akkar. The pair had allegedly criticized Hizballah and President Michel Aoun in social media posts. While Bandar was released shortly thereafter, prosecutors referred Kinda to the Military Court and held her for nine months on charges of spying for Israel and illegally entering the West Bank before releasing her March 16 on a three million Lebanese pound ($2,000) bail. Her next court date had not been set by year’s end. Although Kinda admitted to corresponding with an Israeli journalist, she maintained that she reported this contact to the ISF as required.
Private citizens may file criminal complaints, which the law requires an investigating judge to consider, and many defamation cases were initiated via the allegations of private citizens. Politicians at times responded to allegations of wrongdoing leveled at them by filing criminal complaints alleging defamation. On August 24, Speaker Nabih Berri filed an antidefamation lawsuit against three journalists for their coverage of the August 8 demonstrations. The military justice code also prohibits defamation of the army.
The ISF Cybercrimes Bureau reported that as of September 1, it had received referrals of 442 defamation cases for investigation. The bureau reportedly investigated all the defamation cases during the year, with half of the investigations ongoing at year’s end.
Nongovernmental Impact: Political and religious figures sometimes sought to rally public outcry aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and the press, including through coercion and threats of violence. Amal and Hizballah leaders cited “foreign interference” as a justification for limiting media publications in areas that they controlled.
The law does not restrict access to the internet. The government maintained a monopoly over the internet backbone, as well as over the fixed and mobile telephone industry in general, and therefore it exercised tight control over internet service providers (ISPs). Private ISPs obtain a permit by decree from the Ministry of Telecommunications.
The government reportedly restricted access to some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet. Generally, websites are censored through court orders filed with the ISF’s Cybercrimes Bureau for further investigation, which issues a final order to the Ministry of Telecommunications. Website owners were not notified that their websites were blocked, but they must appeal the blocking within 48 hours to have the decision overturned. NGOs reported that the Ministry of Telecommunications continued to block websites without warning. On March 10, government-run telecommunications network Ogero blocked the website The961 for approximately nine hours without giving a clear reason for doing so.
Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities typically considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Human rights groups reported that political parties and their supporters intimidated individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures. The ISF’s Cybercrime Bureau and other state security agencies also summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. On April 13, authorities summoned activists Nisrine Chahine and Hiba Dandachli to the Barbar Khazen police station after lawyer Majed Boueiz, who represents former ministers Gebran Bassil and Fadi Jreissati, filed a defamation lawsuit against them. This followed an incident in June 2020 when dozens of protesters chanted “Don’t let me hear your voice” to Boueiz when he was representing Jreissati in his lawsuit against activists Gino Raidy and Teymour Jreissati. Chahine and Dandachli were later released.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws applied.
Most private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.
On October 2, the DGS banned the performance of the play Tanfise at al-Madina theater for criticizing the presidency and the government. The performers continued performing the play on the streets. Authorities summoned the play’s director for questioning on October 4, and later gave him permission to continue the performance.
The DGS Censorship Bureau did not ban any films during the year. In 2019 the DGS Censorship Bureau requested the banning of two films, Hard Paint (2018) and Damascus Cover (2017), on the premise that they promoted homosexuality and the Israeli intelligence service, respectively. As of October 19, the Ministry of Interior had not issued final judgment on the DGS request. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints among the public that the DGS decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these freedoms.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior three days prior to any demonstration.
Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when protesters caused property damage or clashes broke out between opposing protesters. Security forces generally allowed demonstrators to protest peacefully during the widespread mass protests that began in October 2019 and during which the ISF and LAF predominantly demonstrated restraint and professionalism in interactions with protesters. The ISF occasionally used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who authorities alleged were engaging in violence or vandalism, and the LAF in some instances used nonlethal force to disperse protesters who resisted LAF efforts to clear key thoroughfares. The NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, however, reported security forces used excessive force against protesters on some occasions.
On June 6, dozens of protesters gathered in downtown Beirut, denouncing what they described as a corrupt and incompetent government and tried to storm the Ministry of Economy and Trade. Protesters tried to knock down the doors of the building before the ISF riot police stopped them.
On July 13, demonstrations took place outside the residence of the then minister of interior Mohamed Fehmi over his refusal to allow the interrogation of the head of the DGS in the Beirut port explosion investigation. ISF riot police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
On August 4, protesters marking the one-year anniversary of the Beirut port explosion clashed with security forces in downtown Beirut near the parliament. ISF riot police reportedly used tear gas and water cannons against the crowds and beat protesters with batons as they tried to storm the main parliament building. The Lebanese Red Cross reported it had transported six individuals to hospitals and treated dozens more on site.
On August 15, protesters gathered in front of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s residence to protest his appointment. Several protesters reportedly breached the property, threw rocks, and broke a glass door. ISF riot police reportedly fired tear gas and beat some of the protesters. Authorities arrested and later released four persons.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association, with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.
No prior authorization is required to form an association, but organizers must notify the Ministry of Interior to obtain legal recognition, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects “public order, public morals, and state security.” In some cases, the ministry sent an NGO’s notification papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or seats on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so can result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.
The cabinet must license all political parties.
In areas under Hizballah’s sway, independent NGOs faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of refugee populations and asylum seekers, most of whom were from the West Bank and Gaza, Syria, and Iraq (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).
In-country Movement: Armed nonstate actors hindered or prevented movement in areas they controlled. Armed Hizballah members controlled access to some areas under Hizballah’s control, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine prevented access to a border area under its control, according to the security services. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.
Citizenship: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father. A citizen mother married to a noncitizen father may not transmit Lebanese citizenship to her children (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons).
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian Refugee Camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom an estimated 27,000 were registered Palestinian refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where services of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) were available. A comprehensive, multiyear plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared Camp began in 2008; the project was approximately 70 percent completed at year’s end. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, with a 60 billion Lebanese pound ($40 million at the official exchange rate) shortfall remaining. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, 14,706 had returned to newly reconstructed apartments in the camp as of June, and the temporary settlements that provided housing for them near Nahr el-Bared Camp were being decommissioned. As of September, two of the five plots had been closed and the land handed back to the respective landlords in their original condition, a third plot was almost fully vacated, and the two remaining plots were being dismantled.
f. Protection of Refugees
As of August there were approximately 850,000 Syrian refugees in the country registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived after that time. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 20 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to UNHCR. According to a UN study, refugees often took loans to cover basic needs such as rent, food, and health care, leaving more than 90 percent in debt and food insecure.
In 2015 entry of Syrians to Lebanon was restricted to those individuals falling within specific categories, such as those with a Lebanese sponsor, or traveling for the purposes of transit, or attending a medical or embassy appointment. Existing immigration rules do not explicitly permit access to Lebanon for refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, except those falling within a narrow set of “humanitarian exceptions.” During recent years the Ministry of Social Affairs has not acknowledged or submitted any humanitarian admission cases, according to UNHCR.
Nearly 10,205 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers resided in the country, including 143 additional Iraqis who registered as of August 31 to escape violence. As of August 31, UNHCR also registered 2,303 refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan and 2,286 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries. More than 27,700 Palestinian refugees from Syria registered with UNRWA resided in Lebanon, as well as an additional approximately 180,000 registered Palestinian refugees.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugee residents, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
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, the vast majority of them Syrian. To address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, the government has waived residency fees since 2017 for refugees who registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who had renewed based on Lebanese sponsorship. DGS implementation of the waiver continued to be inconsistent, and there was minimal improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to UNHCR, only 16 percent of refugees held a legal residency permit, a drop from 20 percent in 2020.
Due to the slow implementation of residency determinations, most Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement due to the possibility of arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some refugees reported that authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them or confiscated their identification documents (IDs). Syrian refugees faced barriers in obtaining Syrian IDs required to renew their residency permits in Lebanon, which they said was due to the hostility of the Syrian government to the refugee population and exorbitant fees assessed by Syrian embassies and consulates. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for refugees of other nationalities, particularly Iraqis, due to high renewal fees and sponsorship requirements. There is no official limitation of movement for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country; however, PRS without legal status faced de facto obstacles, mainly the threat of arrest at checkpoints.
The DGS facilitated the entry of PRS into Lebanon during the early stages (2011-2013) of the Syria conflict. DGS support for PRS border transit was never formalized, and restrictions were imposed on PRS trying to enter Lebanon from 2013. Since 2014, entry visas were only granted at the Syria-Lebanon border to PRS who have either a verified embassy appointment in Lebanon, a pre-approved visa from DGS, or an airline ticket and visa to a third country. Most visas were only granted for 24-hour transit.
Since 2015, the DGS has issued several memoranda allowing refugees to renew their residency documents free of charge, and in 2017 a memorandum was issued granting unlimited free renewals on a six-month basis to PRS who entered Lebanon regularly before September 2016, with no financial penalty for delays. But this did not include anyone who entered Lebanon irregularly in the first place or received a departure order before September 2016. In September the DGS issued a statement also allowing those who entered legally but received a departure order before 2016 to regularize their residency status free of charge.
Since 2017 the government has waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for the PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in 2017 applicable to Syrians. Since 2018 the Ministry of Interior has waived the costly court proceedings to obtain birth registration of PRS and Syrian refugee children older than one year who were born in Lebanon between 2011 and 2020. The proof of marriage requirement remained in effect during the year, and a valid residency permit of at least one of the parents was needed to obtain a marriage certificate.
PRS turning 15 years old have been obliged either to obtain identity documents through Syria, risking getting an exit stamp on their identity documents and therefore no longer being able to maintain residency in Lebanon, or to obtain a passport through the Syrian embassy at a cost of at least 600,000 Lebanese pounds ($400), which is beyond the means of most. In September DGS issued a statement indicating that 15-year-olds may use their birth certificates as a substitute identity document until the age of 18. Residency and identity documents for those turning 18, however, remained a problem.
Refoulement: The government reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. Some political party representatives, however, employed antirefugee rhetoric, stating that assistance to Syrian refugees placed an additional burden on the state, already facing an economic crisis. Unlike previous years, the DGS did not facilitate the voluntary return of refugees to Syria.
In July 2020 the government approved a new refugee returns policy, which outlined its desire for Syrian refugees to return to Syria. The policy committed the government to eliminating obstacles that impeded returns and to facilitating exit procedures, including waiving fees that departing refugees would otherwise have to pay as a condition of their exit. Despite reaffirming the government’s commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement, the policy reportedly downplayed the protection risks and lack of basic services returnees would face in Syria. Significant financial and human resource hurdles prevented the government from implementing the new policy during the year.
The Higher Defense Council (HDC), a body the president chairs that includes cabinet ministers and security service heads, decision enacted in 2019 requiring the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally thereafter continued to be implemented by the DGS during the year. Deportations halted in mid-2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before picking up again toward the end of 2020 and throughout the year. Humanitarian organizations considered the government’s deportation policy – particularly the HDC decision – to be creating a high risk of refoulement given the lack of a formal review process to assess credible fear of persecution or torture. Human rights groups and the international community raised concerns regarding the risk of turning refugees over to Syrian authorities. Government officials maintained that the policy only applied to illegal migrants, not refugees, although it did not appear there was sufficient respect for due process to make such a determination. UNHCR and international donors continued to urge the government to provide for a judicial or independent administrative review of each case, and the application of procedural safeguards before carrying out deportations. The government maintained that while the law required a court hearing on all deportation cases, it did not have the capacity to process the existing caseload.
Non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Such cases usually resulted in the deportation of the detainee, except for instances where the person expressed international protection needs and UNHCR managed to secure their resettlement to a third country. Deportations of non-Syrian refugees and asylum seekers were not observed by UNHCR during the year.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: In 2019 the HDC issued guidance to the security services to increase enforcement of building codes. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of refugee shelters. While demolition of hard structures paused throughout 2020, the government reinitiated demolitions in midyear. As of August 31, at least 115 refugee families have been reportedly affected by instructions from the LAF to dismantle hard structures in central and north Bekaa.
NGOs and UN agencies continued to report incidents of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into agreeing to early marriages of their daughters to relieve economic hardship. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, known as the kafala system, who faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse; unsafe working conditions; and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs that assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes, and victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in several municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures might be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities typically enforced them for Syrian refugees, who mostly lack legal residency status and could face greater consequences if detained for a curfew violation.
The only restrictions on other Lebanese residents were general restrictions on movement except for emergencies, according to these reports. Some municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews (outside of COVID-19-related curfews), evictions, and threats of evictions. UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.
Cases of ID confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, and a few violent incidents against refugees occurred. UNHCR staff reported restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, whom authorities were less likely to stop but were more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, to perform family errands.
Employment: Authorities continued 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. Employment restrictions that began in 2019 remained in effect, although enforcement was not as strict during the year.
The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retire or resign. 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 basic medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).
Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund if they worked in the regular labor market and had a work permit. A law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in 39 skilled professions, including medicine, law, and engineering that require membership in a professional association, although since July they were permitted to practice nursing when no Lebanese candidate was available. Informal restrictions on work in other industries left many refugees dependent on UNRWA for education, health care, and social services. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to excessive bureaucracy and societal stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.
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 provided 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 has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which suffered heavy damage in past conflicts (see also section 2.e., Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons). By agreement with the government, Palestinian security committees provided security for refugees in the camps.
The government did not permit UNRWA to install individual electricity meters in apartments, preferring that UNRWA pay a single bill rather than collecting from thousands of households, which limited access to electricity for residents.
Palestinian refugees typically could not access public-health and education services or own land. By law Palestinians are excluded from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law’s entry into force could bequeath it to their heirs.
Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not considered citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. By law the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to government-provided health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, as bureaucratic and administrative procedures at the Directorate of Political Affairs and Refugees (DPRA) made it difficult to register these children after the age of one year. Additionally, many Palestinian refugee children had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.
Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for the country since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 260,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2020-21 academic year. Instruction includes both formal and nonformal education pathways, with approximately 64,000 non-Lebanese learners in informal education and approximately 196,000 in formal education. UNHCR estimated that there were almost 500,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many nonprofit and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded most associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care. In July 2020 Human Rights Watch alleged there was a dearth of protection facilities such as safe shelters in the country for male and transgender women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence fleeing Syria. As of December there had been no improvement in the situation.
Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.
g. 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 legal discrimination particularly affected Lebanese, Palestinians, and increasingly Syrians from households headed by women. Moreover, undocumented Syrian refugees were unable to register their marriages and births of their children due to their lack of official status. Additionally, some children born to citizen fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.
Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These Palestinians began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize their legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures.
Undocumented Palestinians not registered in other countries where UNRWA operates, such as Syria or Jordan, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. In most cases UNRWA nonetheless provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of these 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 (DPRA) is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law birth registration of children older than one year requires a court procedure, an investigation by the DGS in some cases, and final approval from the DPRA. Where paternity is in doubt or where the applicant is age 18 years and older, he/she may also be required to take a DNA test. Birth registration can take more than a year and was extremely complex for all Palestinian refugee children whose parents were registered with DPRA. Approximately 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 continued to deny them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and administrative obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who had previously received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 under 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, or own or inherit property.