Lebanon Plan to Vet Syrian Refugee Status Threatens Forced Returns 

Statement from Refugees International Senior Advocate for the Middle East Jesse Marks:

“Refugees International is deeply concerned over a new proposal from Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs that calls for a nationwide survey of Syrian refugees to determine those who “meet the criteria of a displaced person.” Under the plan, those deemed by the state as “non-displaced” – those who lack proper residency or legal status – would be forcibly evicted from their tents and shelters and deported to Syria, unless third countries choose to resettle them.  

The move would undermine the safety and security for many of the over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon and put them at greater risk of being forcibly refouled to Syria. The process of obtaining legal status is arduous for Syrian refugees, with only 17 percent of Syrians possessing valid residency due to Lebanon’s stringent immigration rules and a freeze on UNHCR’s ability to register new refugees since 2015. Consequently, about 1.24 million Syrians are without legal status and lack any legal pathway to obtain it. As a result, most Syrian refugees lack the necessary legal recognition to safeguard them from punitive actions – detention, forced removal, and deportation – outlined in the current plan. This means that Lebanon’s proposed plan would without a doubt result in the forced deportation of Syrian refugees in contravention of the international principle of non-refoulement.

The proposed measures come at the heels of a tumultuous year in 2023 for Syrian refugees. Refugees International and refugee-led rights groups in Lebanon reported last year that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) forcibly detained and deported thousands of refugees back to Syria. Lebanese authorities continue to search for ways to push Syrians to return, by choice or by force. 

Meanwhile, Syrian refugees are at risk of falling into obscurity as all eyes remain focused on Gaza. The ongoing fighting between Hamas and Israel have further displaced an estimated 90,000 people from southern Lebanon, creating an overlapping humanitarian crisis. Refugees International welcomes USAID’s deployment of an additional $67 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon amidst these additional constraints.

Refugees International calls on the Lebanese government to refrain from pursuing policies that undermine the rights and safety of Syrian refugees. Donor countries – especially the United States and the European Union – must continue to push the Lebanese government to stop deporting refugees. In addition, donors should fulfill financial commitments to the refugee response, while also resettling more Syrian refugees from their worsening plight.”

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Etant Dupain at edupain@refugeesinternational.org.