Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
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.