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Syrian Refugees Exploited by Lebanon’s New Residency Laws

January 18, 2016
Syrian refugees at a Lebanese refugee camp.
Syrian refugees now make up more than a quarter of Lebanon’s population.

In a bid to reduce the number of Syrians across Lebanon, the Council of Ministers passed new residency rules that impose new regulations on refugees.

The new regulations require all refugees residing in Lebanon, regardless of whether they have previously been registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to pay an annual fee of $US 200.

Refugees will also be required to provide identification documents, most of which refugees will tend to have lost, in order to lodge their application.

As many refugees are unable to afford the renewal fees, they face the prospect of losing their legal standing in Lebanon. According to the UNHCR, 70 per cent of Syrian refugees fall below the poverty line and rely on aid in order to survive.

Meanwhile, out of 40 refugees who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch between February and November 2015, only two individuals successfully renewed their residency with the UNHCR and two other individuals through sponsors.

Of those Syrian refugees who were able to get sponsored, many complained of sexual harassment by their employers. Five Syrian women interviewed by Human Rights Watch revealed that their employers tried to sexually harass and exploit them. According to Human Rights Watch, ‘one refugee called the sponsorship system “a form of slavery”’.

Individuals who fail to renew their residency as per the regulations become susceptible to losing their legal status in Lebanon. This has dire consequences for Syrian refugees as it limits their ability to move freely around the country and find employment.

For children born to Syrian refugees, who could become stateless as a result of the new regulations, the situation is more dire. For example, child labour may spread among child refugees.

According to a report by the International Labor Organisation, refugee children as young as six engaged in various forms of labor including manual and agricultural labor.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged Lebanon to reform its residency regulations. According to Human Rights Watch the ‘authorities should reform these regulations by cancelling the sponsorship system’ and ‘waiving renewal fees’.

As Lebanon has the highest per capita number of refugees in the world, hosting almost 1.3 million Syrian refugees, notwithstanding other refugee groups, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged the international community to lend its support.

The international community is urged to expand and reduce delays in its resettlement process as well as lend financial assistance.

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