Rights & More
Why should you know your rights?
Though some laws are in place intended to guarantee and protect one’s human rights, implementing them is a different story. Arbitrary and institutionalized practices that violate both local and international law still take place in Lebanon, and more often than not, it’s vulnerable communities – refugees included – who experience this.
Refugees=Partners explainers and videos shed light on your rights as refugees within Lebanon’s borders, both in regards to its local law and its commitments under international law.
So, why should you know your rights? Simple. It’s your right to know.
Disclaimer: The information below is not intended as official legal advice, nor does it qualify as an alternative to support from a legal representative.
Lebanon is obliged under International Law to welcome and protect refugees and asylum seekers
Lebanon has ratified or is signatory to many United Nations treaties related to some of the most pressing human rights issues. When it comes to refugees, the most crucial treaty and the one referred to the most is the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. States party to the convention must guarantee rights for refugees, including their freedom to work, movement, and protection.
Arguably its most important article, Article 33, prohibits non-refoulement – or forceful returns to the country they fled from:
No Contracting State shall expel or return (” refouler “) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. – Article 33(1)
That being said, Lebanon has not signed or ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. Lawmakers and high government officials will often refer to this fact in response to criticism of refugee policy. But despite that, all states are expected to abide by the non-refoulement principle under customary international law.
Also, many of the treaties it has committed to under international law also apply to its refugee and asylum-seeking populations including:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
On a local level, Syrian refugees are excluded from the Lebanese Labor Law of 1946 that obligates a set minimum wage, number of working hours, annual leave, and coverage of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which allows many employers to take advantage and not offer them any social or health insurance.
This in turn has increased refugees’ dependence on humanitarian assistance provided by the Lebanese government or humanitarian organizations.
It is also important to note that Syrians are restricted to “third sector jobs” in construction, agriculture, and cleaning services, in accordance with decision no. 197/1 related to the professions reserved for Lebanese Citizens.
Displaced Syrians can obtain sponsorship and work permits which grant them full social rights and a legal status of “migrant workers”. In practice however, the law is not strictly enforced and organizations such as the UNHCR still count them as refugees.
Lebanese law of entry and residency for Syrians
Initially, entry and residency for Lebanese and Syrians between the two countries was based on an agreement between the two countries in 1993.
Three years after the end of the Lebanese Civil War and the dispersal of Syrian military across the country. Both countries’ ministers of economy signed the Agreement for Economic and Social Cooperation and Coordination between the Lebanese Republic and the Syrian Arabic Republic.
The agreement guarantees freedom of movement for both Lebanese and Syrian nationals between the two countries, as well as the right to residency and work.
Under this policy, Syrians entering Lebanon with a valid ID or passport were given an “entry stamp”, permitting visa-free legal residency for an initial period of six months. It can also be renewed for an additional six months, also free of charge.
This open door policy ended in January 2015, where General Security implemented a series of entry regulations.
These regulations divide Syrians looking to renew residency permits in Lebanon into two categories: refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and those who aren’t. All will have to pay a $200 (LL 302,140) annual fee for renewal, as well as valid documentation of their identity and place of residence. Those not registered with the UNHCR would now have to find a Lebanese sponsor in order to legally stay.
In May 2015, UNHCR also indefinitely suspended registering Syrian refugees following orders from the Lebanese government.
These regulations were modified in February 2017, where General Security announced that the $200 residence fee would be waived. However, the situation is not entirely this simple, with many exceptions applying to most Syrian refugees in Lebanon:
- This does not apply to Syrian refugees not registered with the UNHCR
- This does not apply to Palestinian refugees who fled from Syria to Lebanon
- This does not apply to fees required to pay Lebanese sponsors, and in some cases, municipalities fees of their own
Freedom of movement and curfews for Syrians
On paper, Lebanon’s ministry of interior would be the main implementer and overseer of policy and municipal management for refugees or other foreign residents. However, key advisor to caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Khalil Gebara has said in a 2016 interview that internal political differences on the conflict in Syria in the government has left municipal governments to handle this with policies differing between towns.
The ministry of interior has at most been issuing small-scale legal circulars to the municipalities, mostly related to setting up informal settlements. Circular No.242, sent back in February 2013, and its later annexes, also discusses the setting up registration services for Syrian refugees in different municipalities.
But because of the factors mentioned above, implementation is not consistent and most municipality policies are done at an ad hoc level. This means that instead of setting up a pathway to residency registration and identification for Syrian refugees, many municipalities have resorted to discriminatory curfews, which violate international law.
The ministry of interior admits that they do not interfere to prevent curfews and mass expulsions, but have interfered when municipalities impose illegal fines or fees for Syrian refugee residents.
While there have been some cases of the ministry of interior interfering in some more extreme cases of municipal police mistreating Syrian refugees such as in Amchit in 2016, this has not been done on a consistent or institutionalized level to prevent widespread discriminatory curfews or even mass expulsions.
No ministry or centralized body has filled in the gap that should be filled by the ministry of interior thus far. Despite that, curfews, expulsions, and other barriers to freedom of movement on any discriminatory basis remain illegal and violate Lebanon’s legal obligations.