Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Limited Legal Status for Refugees from Syria in Lebanon

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Limited Legal Status for Refugees from Syria in Lebanon

Article excerpt

According to Lebanese law, without the required entry or stay documentation to be in Lebanon, refugees from Syria are considered to be there 'illegally', giving them only limited legal status in the country. Either they crossed into Lebanon through unofficial border crossings or they have not been able to renew their residency visa. As a result, they feel that they have been forced into the situation of being illegally present in Lebanon and feel compelled to limit their movements for fear of being arrested, detained or even deported back to Syria. Many refugees from Syria in Lebanon feel overwhelming concern about the potential risks they face from being in this situation. For refugees with limited legal status, their ability to access basic services, work and UNHCR registration sites and to register births and marriages is severely limited. For Palestinian refugees from Syria the situation is even more challenging, as the restrictions on entering Lebanon and on renewing their legal stay are much more severe.

Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, hence the limited legal protection for refugees and asylum seekers in Lebanon, although it is bound by the customary law principle of non-refoulement and by the obligations of the human rights treaties which it has signed and which are incorporated into its Constitution. International standards under these obligations recommend, at a minimum, the adoption of temporary protection measures to ensure the safe admission of refugees, to protect them against refoulement and to respect their basic human rights.

Although UNHCR has been permitted by the Lebanese government to register refugees, the protection offered by such registration remains limited; being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services but it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.

Facing the challenges

In order to address the challenges that refugees with limited legal status face, they often adopt coping mechanisms which can lead to exposure to new risks. Some of the main ones are: returning to Syria in order to try to re-enter through an official border crossing and thereby get another entry coupon free of charge; paying high prices for retrieving identity documentation from Syria; buying fake documentation; or using other people's documents. Due to having limited funds and the high cost of visas, many families prioritise the renewal of the residency visa for the main income-earner in the family, usually a male member of the household. …

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