Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region
Days of Dialogue, April 24, 2018
Session I: Protecting Syrians across the region
Written Statement: Protection Challenges in Lebanon
In Lebanon, the conditions of refugees remain fragile, and refugees are still facing growing protection risks. Since the last conference, last year, several policies adopted by the Lebanese government helped facilitate refugees’ access to legal and civil documentation. However, their rights remain at risk.
The traditional approach of providing host countries with humanitarian assistance, financial support, loans, and grants will certainly address some of the economic and social implications of the crisis but falls short of dealing with the political consequences, impact on social stability and the possibility of violent conflicts erupting in the future as a result of the demographic changes. Therefore, durable solutions should be on the table including short to mid-term strategies aiming at sharing the demographic burden of refugees, especially in the case of fragile countries such as Lebanon, where one third of the population is made up of refugees Palestinian and Syrian. Commitments to resettlement by the international community remain very low, and on the decline in the last year. We urge States to commit to resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admissions, in a transparent fashion with clear benchmarks and reporting.
Another consistent shortcoming by the International Community is the failure to address the ill-fitted policy options adopted by the host countries regarding migration, asylum, and refuge. While these host countries have every right to criticize the absence of a fair demographic burden sharing, they remain bound to the International Human Rights Law in dealing with refugee population. Discussions about the major protection challenges of refuges, including restrictive and discriminatory legal frameworks and state bodies practices are often avoided or postponed.
In Lebanon for example, policies related to the Syria crisis remain oblivious of the current refugee situation the country faces, proposing regulations and ministerial decision not only failing to patch the gaps in protection but often creating more of them. Such as policies that restrict the right to work, the rigid sponsorship system that often generates negative coping mechanisms. Such coping mechanisms could take the shape of self-imposed restrictions on movements, child labour and others. In a gender perspective the current protection situation generates other forms of coping mechanisms such as early marriage, survival sex, exploitation. Recent reports have showed that 50% of women headed households face food insecurities in comparison to only 35% among men headed households. Protection challenges also affect the access of refugees to basic services, in particular health.
It is important however to note that since the last conference in April 2017, Lebanese authorities have put in place positive measures and policy reforms that have made the legal protection situation for refugees slightly better. In September 2017, the Personal Status Department (PSD) announced a change in legislation pertaining to birth certificates for Syrians and PRS’s. Parents no longer need to present valid legal residency to register their children born in Lebanon. This is a positive change in policy, especially since only 36% of Syrian refugee children were registered at the PSD in 2017 prior to this announcement. The policy was reinforced by a decision by the Council of Ministers in February 2018, which gives the Ministry of Interior (MoI) exceptional authority to adopt measures facilitating birth registration of Syrian children born in Lebanon after 2011. In March 2018, the PSD issued a memo waiving late birth registration for Syrian and PRS children born in Lebanon between the January 1st, 2011 and the February 8th, 2018. Lebanon has also strengthened
Despite the progress, it is too early to determine how these changes will be implemented. PSD offices will need greater capacities to be able to process the immense backlog.
To make these changes better enforced Lebanon should ensure that all refugees are able to obtain civil registration documentation – including birth, marriage, divorce and death certificates – fulfill their legal obligations in Lebanon without restrictions such as deadlines for registration. It should address barriers to freedom of movement and legal residency.
The situation on protection is further exacerbated by rising restrictive policies adopted by local authorities, from curfews to ID confiscations and evictions. Tens of thousands of refugees faced evictions in the year 2017. Some finding roots in security concerns, other as forms of collective punishments. The Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM), alongside humanitarian and development actors, should urge local authorities to refrain from issuing harmful restrictions on refugees such as notices of eviction and expulsion.
Such challenges necessitate more comprehensive and stronger protection mainstreaming in all sectors. With the absence of comprehensive policies in Lebanon, the need to mainstream protection becomes more evident. A gender perspective should also be promoted. Clear indicators have to be included and developed in all programmatic support. Those indicators should be closely monitored.
The conference is also expected to have a stronger stance on durable solutions, the Brussels outcome document should reaffirm that the conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees are not in place and that previous commitments must be implemented to avoid incentivizing premature returns
 Delivered by George Ghali, Executive Director, ALEF act for human rigths