Alef Liban – for refugee rights in Lebanon

by Denise
Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with AlefLiban about Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Alef says that the Lebanese Government has to respond better to this emergency.
What are
the main difficulties that refugees face?
The Syrian refugees in Lebanon face series
of challenges all generating from an overarching problem: the lack of a
comprehensive policy regulating the stay of refugees in Lebanon in the midst of
ad hoc restrictive policies. In that regard Syrians face challenges to their
livelihood as the Lebanese government restricts the right to work on all Syrian
refugees in Lebanon. In addition to that Syrians also face great pressure and a
long-term problem as they aren’t able to register their new-borns resulting in
an increase in stateless children among Syrian refugees. Furthermore Syrians
also face problems such as limited access to education, a narrow access to
healthcare and an increase in their reliance on a shrinking international aid. 
What are, according your experience, the
most effective ways to face these difficulties?
The most effective way is to work in a
converted effort on finding practical ways to implement durable solutions. This
will not only require better response from the international community to
enlarge their role in burden sharing, but it will also require a political will
from the Lebanese government. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is
certainly exhausting the Lebanese infrastructure and is causing an increasing
pressure on resilience of host communities. However this essentially requires a
better response from the Lebanese government. Problems affecting Syrians are
basic human rights, and any response should be addressed in a rights based
method, the Lebanese government has the duty and obligation to provide these
rights to Lebanese, and Syrians and all other individuals alike. The Lebanese
government cannot let go of such obligations claiming that it is not the
obligation of the government. 
How do you advocate refugees right at the
international and national level?
To be sure, few expected the Syrian
conflict to drag on for this long, let alone that the number of refugees would
surpass the million mark but years into the conflict the scale of the
humanitarian crisis continues to grow.
For the majority of the millions of refugees from
Syria living in Lebanon, returning home, in the short to mid-term, faces a
myriad of challenges making such an option close to impossible. An opportunity
exists for Lebanon to develop its domestic legal framework regarding the
treatment of refugees, and draws a legal distinction between Syrian refugees
and other types of immigrants and visitors. By doing so, Lebanon will uphold
its international obligation to provide protection to those with a well-founded
fear of persecution.
However, the responsibility for protecting and
upholding the rights of the refugee population does not lie only with Lebanon. International support to the country and
well as to Syrian refugees must increase. Resolutions, as well as mitigating
solutions to restrictive policies require intervention from a broad range of
actors. While the specificities of Lebanon’s experience demand a sustainable
political and humanitarian effort, responding to the more immediate issues
requires a wide, more comprehensive and creative approach to the principles of
protection and burden sharing.
Burden sharing and
Even if
international financial support to the Lebanese government to deal with the
humanitarian consequences of the influx of refugees has been substantial in
absolute figures, it falls short of the needs of the Lebanese state, the Syrian
refugees and their hosting communities. Material assistance should not be
considered the sole requirement of burden sharing. Resettlement, security
coordination, humanitarian evacuation and other forms of sustainable actions
must also be part of the international community’s support to Lebanon to
mitigate the risks, fears and demographic challenges. The support provided must
be made conditional on key criteria with regard to protection of refugees.
In that regard,
ALEF call upon:
The government
of Lebanon and, the European Union and EU member states to ensure and increase
funding to enable direct assistance for both basic and critical needs to
mitigate policy impact
The EU and EU
member states to intensify efforts to increase the number of places for Syrian
refugees globally, including humanitarian admission, or other forms of
The EU and EU member states to seek
a joint advocacy with the government of Lebanon on points of agreement, such as
resettlement, and a durable political solution to the Syrian Conflict
The UNHCR to
continue and intensify advocacy efforts towards states to increase the number
of places for Syrian refugees globally on resettlement, humanitarian admission,
or other forms of admission
between actors in aid agencies, academia, think tanks, local government, and
the private sector is needed to convey support and messaging advocating the
fair treatment of refugees
Restrictive measures push refugees into illegality
The so-called “October policy”, restricting entry and stay in Lebanon for
Syrians, has led to a very high number of Syrians disappearing in illegality.
Some 70 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not have valid legal stay in
the country. This leaves them subject to harassment, violence, and the
restriction of movement, employment and decent livelihoods. While the
restrictive measures were taken with the argument of protecting security, these
measures actually lead to an increased pressure on security, with violent
incidents, problems in documenting figures and location of refugees, refugees
living and working illegally and hardship leading to an increased threat of
crime and radicalization. Efforts to ensure all civilians from Syria seeking
safety and international protection have access to UNHCR registration,
regardless of means of entry or employment status are an immediate priority.
Therefore, ALEF call upon:
The government
of Lebanon
 to remove
barriers that prevent Syrians from pursuing sustainable livelihoods, including
restrictions on the right to work, and the right to self-sustain. An overall
framework should be pursued to enable those who can be self-sufficient to do so
without having to resort to harmful negative coping mechanisms
The government
of Lebanon to engage in vulnerability-based assistance, including for
non-registered Syrians and host communities
The EU and EU member states to communicate
to their Lebanese partners the benefits of supporting refugees, including
increased control over informal workers, tax income, filling employment and
social stability
The EU and EU
member states to highlight with their Lebanese partners the importance of NGOs
in outreach, community mobilization, and service delivery
The UNHCR and
other aid agencies to increase and improve communications to both the Lebanese
government and the public around programs supporting Lebanese citizens, and the
positive impacts of assistance on local communities and economies
Within the framework of the October
Policy, Lebanon’s General Security is empowered to restrict or approve the
entry of Syrian nationals according to specific categories under its
discretion, ultimately blurring the lines between whom the government considers
to be displaced, refugees, and migrants. While the justification of a
systematic review to ensure that those registered as refugees are indeed within
the well-established criteria is evident, an independent needs-based assessment
must be done on a case-by-case basis with due consideration for the specific
socio-economic and other sector-specific vulnerabilities of the individual. An
opportunity exists for Lebanon to develop its domestic legal framework
regarding the treatment of refugees, and draws a legal distinction between
Syrian refugees and other types of immigrants and visitors.
Therefore, ALEF call upon:
The government
of Lebanon and the EU and EU member states to ensure that the review process
for the status of refugees already in Lebanon is in line with international
standards and done on a case-by-case basis,
 including when considering internal
flight or relocation alternatives and voluntary repatriation
The government of Lebanon to provide
access to legal status and birth registration for all Syrian men, women and
The government
of Lebanon to develop a clear legal framework for refugees/displaced based on
well-established protection criteria
The UNHCR to continue to assist the Lebanese
authorities in conducting human rights and refugee law training of local
municipal officials as well as border officers
with mass influx of refugees
While Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol, it
is a party to a number of human rights treaties, and is bound to international
customary norms, including the principle of non-refoulement,
which safeguards individuals from being returned to environments or situations
where they are at risk of persecution or serious human rights abuses. ALEF and PAX, while holding the
Lebanese authorities accountable to its duties under international refugee and
human rights law, recognize that Lebanon is facing an unprecedented challenge
and cannot be expected to resolve the mass influx of refugees from Syria on
their own.
Therefore, ALEF call
The EU and EU
member states to develop more effective and predictable responses to mass
influx situations that will improve responsibility-sharing arrangements to
share the burdens of first asylum countries.
The government
of Lebanon to reiterate the unconditional commitment to the principle of non-refoulement 
The government
of Lebanon
 to continue to
provide access of Syrian refugees on the basis of stricter review process in
compliance with international refugee law standards, in particular the
principle of non- refoulement and with human rights law
In what
consists the program for the Women’s Socio-Economic Empowerment in Lebanon?
The project seeks to focus on the
legislative and behavioural challenges and inhibitors facing the socio-economic
empowerment of women in Lebanon. Despite the different programs and projects by
different organizations in Lebanon seeking to enhance the participation of
women in economic and social life, certain legal frameworks in particular the
Labor Law and the Law of the National Social Security Fund generates
limitations and inhibitors to women socio-economic roles. Such policies do not
regard women as equal to men in family life, and restrain from women a number
of rights. Alef works with a number of other organizations on lobbying state
institutions to reform these laws in order to enhance the role of women in
socio-economic life. This also includes targeting the private sector and
businesses to enhance their understanding of equality. 
Do you cooperate with local authorities
and local communities? If yes, how?
ALEF believes that municipalities play an active and vital role in
protecting human rights and in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon,
as they are part of the state and hence are tasked with carrying certain
obligations. Thus, ALEF seeks to support local municipalities in addressing the
crisis in a manner that is in accordance to human rights standards through
reducing the tension between Syrian refugees and host communities, reducing and
eliminating tensions that are a product of the scarcity of available resources
on the national level for Syrian refugees, and raising awareness about the
importance of using a rights-based approach.
In order to put this theory into practice, ALEF has been working on
a project entitled “Towards Protection- Friendly Local Governance”, which
builds the capacity of two selected municipalities in the areas of human
rights, refugee protection policies, conflict prevention and resolution, and
engages Lebanese and Syrian communities in joint development initiatives. This
is meant to progressively raise the awareness of municipality members on their
responsibilities in adopting protection- friendly rights- based policies within
their communities, and their ability to independently create mechanisms that
oversee this. This will be central to creating a common understanding of human
and refugee rights among participants, mobilizing them towards creating a
mechanism involving both Lebanese and Syrian representatives who will identify
the main needs and challenges that both Syrian and Lebanese host communities
feel are urgent to address. To this end, 12 municipality members attended 4
workshops on human rights, refugee protection policies, conflict prevention and
resolution in targeted municipalities, and in close coordination with municipality
members, 20 representatives of the Lebanese and Syrian communities designed and
implemented 2 development initiatives.