Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Lebanon

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Lebanon, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 23 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Lebanon regularly deported Iraqis and denied entry to Iraqi and Somali refugees. Unlike in past years, however, the Government no longer automatically deported detained refugees after their prison terms.

Lebanon was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and did not have a functioning refugee law in accord with the Convention. The 1962 Entry and Exit Law prohibited refoulement of persons accused of "political crimes" and provided that any foreigner whose life or liberty was in danger for "political reasons" could seek asylum. Only one high-profile refugee received this status, however, and that was in 1999. Lebanon's 2003 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) declared that "Lebanon does not consider itself an asylum country" and, under its mandate, UNHCR carried out all refugee status determinations. UNHCR granted second interviews to applicants rejected on credibility grounds but provided only general reasons for denials and summarily rejected claims based on fraudulent documents.

The MOU only covered refugees who entered the country after it went into effect and prohibited persons already in the country legally from applying. It also did not cover Iraqis under UNHCR's temporary protection regime. Lebanon only permitted provisional presence of asylum seekers and refugees under the condition that UNHCR repatriate or resettle them. The MOU prohibited any person who entered Lebanon illegally from applying for asylum with UNHCR after two months after entry. UNHCR had to submit all applicants' documentation to the General Security Directorate, according to the MOU, "in order to undertake the appropriate follow up and investigations" and had three months to make determinations and to turn over a list of the names of everyone it denied. If UNHCR granted refugee status, the MOU gave UNHCR six months to find countries to accept the refugees for resettlement. During this time, the Government issued circulation permits, which it renewed only once "for a final period of three months after which time the General Security would be entitled to take the appropriate legal measures."

A 1962 decree recognized most Palestinians as "foreigners without identity documents from their countries of origin residing in Lebanon on the basis of residence cards issued by the General Security Directorate or by the General Directorate of the Administration of Palestinian Refugee Affairs." The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had registered nearly 409,000 Palestinian refugees but many of those resided outside of the country or had Lebanese citizenship. The Government's Directorate of Affairs of the Palestinian Refugees (DAPR) issued them identity documents attesting to their right to be in Lebanon and registered their births, marriages, and deaths. Those Palestinian refugees whose families fled after 1948 or whose first country of exile was not Lebanon were barred from registering with few exceptions. Non-registered spouses and children of registered women were not eligible for UNRWA refugee status. In a June instruction however, UNRWA agreed to include them starting June 7.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 Iraqis were in the country but the Government did not give them temporary protection as advocated by UNHCR.

The July 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah displaced many asylum seekers and refugees who lived in areas of south Lebanon, Bekaa, and the southern suburbs of Beirut, including some 16,000 Palestinians.

Detention/Access to Courts

Lebanon detained at least 2,100 foreigners in 2006, including 363 Sudanese, 343 Iraqis, and 145 Palestinians. Among these were 21 recognized refugees and 46 asylum applicants with pending claims. Authorities held half the total for immigration violations and accused the other have of common crimes. Because the 1962 Entry and Exit Law did not differentiate between refugees and illegal immigrants, authorities detained many refugees for illegal entry and for breaking the requirements of the labor laws. Under Lebanese law, courts could sentence anyone who entered the country and worked illegally to at least one month in jail and a fine. The 2003 MOU provided that the General Security Directorate would notify UNHCR of asylum seekers detained "at its premises" and UNHCR could send "an explanatory letter with the proper documents" if it wished to interview other detainees. The Government kept most detainees for illegal entry at the overcrowded Roumieh prison and only transferred them to the General Security detention center after they completed their sentences. Authorities released refugees from detention when UNHCR intervened if they had resettlement prospects. If not, the Government detained them indefinitely beyond the initial imprisonment sentence, without judicial review, pending durable solutions. Palestinian refugees were subject to arrest, detention, and harassment by state security forces and members of groups, such as Fatah and others, that controlled Palestinian refugee camps also detained members of rival factions. UN Security Council resolutions called upon the Government to control its territory and disarm militia groups but it failed to do so.

Lebanon provided legal aid to refugees whose home country provided legal aid rights to Lebanese nationals, but this excluded all Palestinian refugees. All detained refugees had the right to attorney at their own expense. In 2006, UNHCR and CARITAS created a legal aid program to provide legal support to refugees.

The police and other authorities, including the judiciary, did not acknowledge asylum and refugee certificates issued by UNHCR, but in some cases police reportedly refrained from arresting persons who presented them. Authorities respected the Government-issued temporary circulation permits, but they were valid for only three months for asylum seekers and six months for refugees with only one renewal for three months.

Although refugees and other asylum seekers technically had access to the courts, many refugees avoided them for fear of arrest. Unelected Palestinian factions in refugee camps operated autonomous and arbitrary traditional tribal justice systems through local committees, although the committees sometimes turned homicide perpetrators over to Lebanese authorities for trial. The Government was unable to conduct investigations in the 12 Palestinian-controlled camps.

The 1926 Constitution promised protection from arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and custody to all persons. The 1962 Entry and Exit Law provided that the General Security Directorate would issue special identity cards to political refugees.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government restricted the movements of unregistered refugees. The Government gave all UNRWA registered Palestinian refugees who entered Lebanon before or during 1948 and their descendents renewable five-year travel documents. Palestinian refugees registered with DAPR received travel documents valid for one year. In 2006, the General Security Directorate stated that refugees who obtained foreign passports could still keep their travel documents.

Lebanon did not confine non-Palestinian refugees to camps or segregated settlements. However, since it considered the majority of non-Palestinian refugees to be illegal immigrants, they could not move freely within the country for fear of arrest for illegal entry.

Refugees with circulation permits could travel and reside where they liked in the country. The 1962 Entry and Exit Law provided that the commission granting political asylum could oblige its beneficiaries to reside in determined areas.

The Government issued international travel documents to Palestinian refugees but not to others.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

In June 2005, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) partially repealed restrictions prohibiting Palestinian refugees from working in 70 types of jobs. The edict covered about two-thirds of the occupations previously restricted, generally the low- to medium-skilled ones. To obtain work permits, Palestinians had to be born in Lebanon, have registered with the MOI, and had to have contracts with specific employers. Annual fees for work permits ranged from 240,000LL ($159) for workers earning below the minimum wage of 300,000LL ($200) per month to 960,000LL ($635) for workers earning twice the minimum and 1,800,000LL ($1,191) for consultants, experts, general directors, or heads of accounts. Registered Palestinians only had to pay a fourth of those fees but they also were ineligible for social security, due to a requirement that foreigners' home states give reciprocal benefits to Lebanese – the Palestinians having no home state – although they had to contribute to it. The edict did not change a 1964 law that also imposed a reciprocity condition on membership in professional syndicates – a precondition for employment in professions such as law, medicine, engineering, and journalism that also effectively excluded Palestinians. In 2005, fewer than 300 Palestinians obtained work permits.

Non-Palestinian refugees had to apply to MOL for work permits as foreigners. To gain work permits, foreigners had to be experts or professionals in a field where no Lebanese candidates were available, to be residents of Lebanon since 1954, or to work in a company for at least nine consecutive months during the year. Lebanon also offered work permits to foreigners who were married to Lebanese women for at least a year, had Lebanese mothers, or were of Lebanese descent.

Most refugees worked in the informal sector of the economy. Employers paid refugees less and required them to work more hours than other workers. Palestinian refugees could not organize their own unions.

The 1926 Constitution promised protection of property rights to all. Foreigners, including refugees and the nation's 25,000 stateless Kurds, could own limited plots of land, but they had to fulfill special legal requirements, including the approval of five different district offices. An amendment made in 2001 to the Property decree of 1969, only allowed foreigners to acquire property if they came from countries that granted reciprocal rights to Lebanese and their possession was not contrary to the Constitution's ban on Palestinian tawtin (implantation). This excluded Palestinians from acquiring or bequeathing property to their heirs. Banks required nonresident foreigners to have a valid entry visa to open an account but refugees could register vehicles in their names at the MOI.

Despite the heavy damage the refugee camps sustained during the civil war, the 1980s Israeli invasion, camp feuds, and the July-August Israeli invasion, the Government generally prohibited the repair, renovation, or construction of permanent structures in the camps. Guards outside of camps searched vehicles upon entry to prohibit refugees bringing in building supplies.

Public Relief and Education

The 2003 MOU required UNHCR to provide "the necessary assistance" to refugees holding circulation permits, to avoid their being "a burden on the Lebanese Government." Palestinian refugees were not eligible for government health services or education. UNRWA ran 25 health clinics for Palestinian refugees.

A 1999 Ministry of Education decree granted all refugee children access to primary and secondary schools if space was available. The schools required that all refugee children have an identification certificate issued by UNHCR to enroll. Only around 10,000 Palestinian refugee children enrolled in both private and government-run elementary and secondary schools. UNHCR provided educational assistance to non-Palestinian refugee children attending primary and secondary school and UNRWA ran about 80 schools for Palestinian refugees.

UNHCR provided support for up to 85 percent of medical expenses incurred by refugees and covered 100 percent of medical expenses for those refugees it considered the most vulnerable. UNHCR also obtained supplementary funding from other operational partners for expensive medical procedures or operations.

Authorities prohibited the expansion of or renovation in the severely overcrowded and war-damaged refugee camps. Some refugees reported that, during the Israeli invasion, nationals refused to admit them into the public shelters, but UNHCR created shelters that provided food and other necessities to over 2,000 refugees and immigrants. There were no reports that the Government restricted humanitarian access to refugees.

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