Lebanese government puts new restrictions on Syrian refugees

Lebanese government puts new restrictions on Syrian refugees
The ongoing security crackdown on Syrian refugees in Lebanon have sent shockwaves of fear throughout Syrians living in the country.
3 min read
03 May, 2023
The Lebanese government deported at least 168 Syrians back to Syria in the month of April. [Getty]

Lebanon's Ministry of Interior on Tuesday announced a raft of new restrictions on Syrian refugees amid a greater crackdown on the around 1.8 million Syrians living in the country.

Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi told municipalities to start registering Syrian refugees living in the area and to make registration of legal residency a prerequisite for Syrians wishing to rent or buy real estate.

He said that this effort would be part of a national survey to determine the number of Syrians residing in Lebanon.

"There will be large numbers of Syrian refugees in the country who will not be included in this census. They will not be able to register with the municipality and they will not be able to rent real estate ... since many of them do not have legal residency," Mohammad Hasan, the executive director of Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR), told The New Arab

Mawlawi also told UNHCR to revoke the refugee status of any Syrian refugees who go to Syria and then return back to Lebanon.

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It is unclear if UNHCR has the capacity to monitor which Syrian refugees have crossed the border to Syria.

The new restrictions on Syrian refugees in Lebanon come as Lebanese authorities have launched a deportation campaign, sending at least 168 Syrians back to Syria in April.

Human rights monitors have condemned the deportations, warning that refugees face the possibility of torture upon return. 

Amnesty International reported at least four were arrested upon return to Syria.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has said that the majority of Syrians deported from Lebanon faced "abuse and extortion" at the hands of Syrian security forces.

Hasan said that the arrest and deportation campaigns "violates human rights" and could collectively criminalise those that are returned to Syria.

The deportations have sent ripples of fear among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, most of them fearful that they could be returned to the same regime whose abuses they fled.

"I'm really afraid to leave my house. It's making me go crazy. [The Lebanese government] took so many people and handed them to the [Syrian] 4th division. God save those that they sent to the border," Rania, a Syrian refugee living in the northern city of Akkar, told TNA under a pseudonym.

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UNHCR stopped registering Syrians as refugees in 2015 at the Lebanese government’s request, so many of those living in Lebanon do not have formal refugee status or legal residency.

"Most of the Syrians do not have legal residence in Lebanon, not because they do not want it, but because the Lebanese government is not giving it. There is no clear mechanism to apply for asylum in Lebanon," Wadih al-Asmar, president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), told TNA.

He added that the Lebanese government has put numerous obstacles in the way of Syrians seeking to regularise their residency status.

Rania herself has sought to renew her residency in Lebanon but was told by a lawyer that it would take over a month and a half to do so.

In the meantime, Lebanese security forces have set up roadblocks and conducted raids, sweeping up Syrians who do not have legal residency status.

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Anti-Syrian sentiment has been on the rise since the start of Lebanon's economic crisis in 2019.

Frustrated by the soaring cost of living and increasing rates of poverty, many Lebanese politicians have painted Syrian refugees as an additional burden on the already-beleaguered country.

On Wednesday, the Lebanese General Security Directorate opened up a voluntary return center in Arsal, a city on the Syrian-Lebanese border in the Bekaa which hosts tens of thousands of Syrians.

Over 50 families registered to return to Syria thus far, General Security said.

In the past, voluntary return schemes have resulted in few Syrians going back to Syria, as refugees cite fears of reprisal from security forces and an abysmal economy as deterrents from repatriation.