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 September 1, UNHCR registered 1,033,513 Syrian refugees and, as of June 30, registered 21,873 refugees or asylum seekers from countries other than Syria, most of whom were from Iraq. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided assistance to Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon (while approximately 458,000 individuals registered refugees with UNRWA Lebanon, the estimated number of Palestinian refugees actually living in Lebanon was between 260,000 and 280,000. UNRWA also provided services to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) who fled to Lebanon because of the conflict in Syria and registered with UNRWA in Lebanon. PRS in Lebanon numbered 30,675, according to an UNRWA count completed in July.
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 for their daughters or nonconsensual sex.
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 directorate, however, had to approve the transfer of registration of residence for refugees who resided in camps. UNRWA stated the directorate generally approved such transfers.
Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR must pay a renewal fee of 300,000 Lebanese pounds ($200) for each person age 15 or above each 12 months if the person wishes to remain in the country lawfully as a refugee. Syrian refugees who arrived in the country after January 2015 must have entered with a Lebanese sponsor. In light of decreasing refugee resources, renewal fees were prohibitively expensive, and most refugees had difficulty affording the fees. In addition to the fee, refugees had to provide legal housing documents and a notarized pledge not to work in the first half of the year. In May authorities replaced the housing document by a registration certificate issued by UNHCR. In July authorities also replaced the pledge not to work with a pledge to abide by the country’s laws. With respect to the latter, this instruction was slowly and unevenly being implemented throughout the country. Due to the residency fee and, in some cases, failure to obtain a Lebanese sponsor, many refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to regular arrests at checkpoints. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, a few reported their treatment in detention and reasons for release. Some of the refugees met by embassy officers said authorities required them to pay fines before being released. By March 31, 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. A number of refugees reported that the UNCHR registration certificate was not sufficient to renew their residency, as authorities asked them to produce a Lebanese sponsor, which in turn led to heightened risks of exploitation and abuse. Syrian refugees who entered the country irregularly or lacked Syrian passports or national identity documents reportedly cannot obtain residency permits with either a sponsor or UNHCR registration.
Similarly, despite DGS announcements that PRS could renew their legal immigration status for three months upon payment of 300,000 Lebanese pounds ($200) per year, implementation was inconsistent and the cost prohibitively high for most PRS. At the end of October 2015, the DGS began issuing several circulars allowing free-of-charge three-month extensions of residency documents for PRS who entered the country legally, but many PRS reportedly did not approach the DGS due to fear of arrest and deportation. While “departure orders” for those without legal residency status in the country were not actively enforced, authorities issued departure orders, and detention of PRS without legal status remained a risk.
In September the DGS issued a new circular stating that residency was free for PRS who had been in the country for less than one year, and the 300,000 Lebanese pound ($200) per person fee for persons 15 years and older that must be renewed every six months was waived for the first year. Upon further discussion with the DGS, authorities informed UNRWA that free-of-charge residency visas would be available for a year following the date of the last renewal of their residency, while those who had not renewed their residency during the last year would have to pay the 300,000 Lebanese pound ($200) fees. Based on UNRWA’s field monitoring and legal assistance services, UNRWA observed inconsistency and discrepancy between this information and the policies DGS offices implemented across the country. Authorities asked the majority of PRS approaching DGS offices to pay the 300,000 Lebanese pound ($200) fees despite having renewed their residency visa within the past year.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing 30,000 Palestinian refugees. As of July 31, UNRWA reported that 8,854 Palestinian refugees (2,193 families) returned to newly constructed apartments in Nahr el-Bared camp, while another 12,416 remained displaced. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where UNRWA services were available. Officials anticipated that a further 2,224 residents could return to the rebuilt camp by April 2017.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the country is not a party to either the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees or the 1967 protocol.
According to a study conducted by the American University of Beirut in 2015, 65 percent of Palestinian refugees in the country lived in poverty, compared to 90 percent of PRS. The study estimated unemployment at 23 and 52 percent for Palestinian refugees and PRS, respectively. 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.
As of June 30, there were 1,033,513 Syrians refugees registered with UNHCR. This total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived in the country in 2015, as UNHCR Lebanon suspended new registration of Syrian refugees after January 2015 in accord with the government’s instructions. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Many Syrian refugees resided with host families, in unfinished buildings, or in temporary tent settlements. More than two-thirds of Syrian refugees lived in extreme poverty. A UN assessment of more than 4,000 refugee households found that an estimated 70 percent lived below the Lebanese extreme poverty line of 5,790 Lebanese pounds ($3.86) per day. According to the 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 January 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.
In 2014 authorities began restricting entry into the country for PRS. For PRS to enter from Syria, they must be in possession of an officially validated plane ticket and visa for travel to a third country or have a confirmed embassy appointment in Lebanon. Authorities generally granted PRS who have all the required documentation a 24-hour transit visa. 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 ensured refugees could pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, complete civil registration processes, and access and remain within the educational system.
There was also a limited influx of Iraqi refugees who entered the country seeking to escape violence from the fight against Da’esh. As of August there were 18,542 Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. 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 almost always enforced them on Syrian refugees only.
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.
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. According to an American University of Beirut study, less than 3.3 percent of Palestinian refugees in country had an official employment contract by a public notary, which enables them to apply for a work permit.
Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution. After Syrians and Palestinians, Iraqis were the third-largest group of refugees in the country.
The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners, and in several instances they experienced worse treatment than other foreign nationals. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to the 458,000 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 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, but remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, and a shortfall of 2,066,097 Lebanese Pounds ($137 million) remained at year’s end. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the crisis, authorities expected approximately 22,000 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 are able to 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 Lebanese 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.
Palestinians who fled Syria to Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance. Authorities permitted their children to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics. UNRWA’s verification exercise in late summer found that there were approximately 30,000 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 more than 157,000 Syrian students in public schools in the 2015-16 academic year, and enrollment continued at year’s end. Donor funding was available to support 200,000 children to enroll; however, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated there were approximately 379,000 school-age Syrian refugee children (ages five to 17). 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 emergency care.
Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. UNHCR reported that more than 600 Iraqi children 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. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care.
Temporary Protection: The country is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and does not recognize refugees in Lebanon. Authorities termed Syrians “displaced.” While the government consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians, this commitment does not apply to refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, who remained at concrete risk of forced repatriation, particularly those without resettlement prospects.
According to UNHCR, authorities detained 226 refugees and non-Syrian asylum seekers through August, of whom 148 remained in detention at the end of the year. Through August the DGS deported eight 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.
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 may not have had their births registered due to a lack of understanding of the regulations or administrative obstacles. The problem was compounded since nonnational status was a hereditary circumstance that stateless persons pass to their children. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.
Approximately three thousand 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 previously was the directorate’s policy to deny late birth registration to Palestinian refugee children who were above age two. Children between age 10 and 20 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 were denied 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, because of a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without 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.