The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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March 17, 2015

The Daily Star - Refugees asked to promise not to work, March 17, 2015

Samya Kullab

Aid organizations have expressed concern over General Security’s new residency renewal measures for Syrian nationals, especially a provision requiring registered refugees to pledge not to work. Aid agencies were informed about the measures, which have not been publicized by General Security, in an internal memorandum circulated earlier this year that went into effect Jan. 5. The document, which was acquired by The Daily Star, lists nine different categories for Syrian nationals to legalize their stay in Lebanon. Notably, it draws a distinction between Syrian nationals registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and those outside its purview.

Refugees seeking to renew their residencies for this year must provide the General Security with a written pledge not to work, a fee of $200, a copy of their UNHCR registration document, a housing pledge, which typically requires a notarized declaration from a mukhtar who may charge for the service and valid ID.

Other categories of Syrian nationals, who are legally permitted to work, must find a Lebanese sponsor to assume responsibility for them throughout their stay, a housing pledge and the $200 fee.

The required pledge not to work is raising concerns among Syrian refugees, the majority of whom do resort to some form of informal labor to make ends meet.

For George Ghali, a program officer for ALEF-Act for Human Rights, the measures might encourage some Syrians to let go of UNHCR registration. Such a trend would be counterproductive, especially as efforts are ongoing to resettle some refugees elsewhere, he said.

From the outset it would suggest “Lebanon wants to turn its refugees into migrants,” he said.

But a source with the Interior Ministry, which supervises the work of General Security, denied that the measures sought to reduce refugee numbers by obliging them to make the choice between humanitarian aid and working. “On the contrary, I see it [the measures] as facilitating their stay,” the source said.

The pledge helps to distinguish refugees from Syrian migrants, who have worked as laborers in Lebanon for decades, the source said.

“General Security is asking refugees to show their registration card, instead of having to find a local sponsor. This is because we are assuming that those not registered are largely Syrian migrants who have played a significant role in Lebanon’s agricultural sector for a long time,” he said.

“This is an issue we have to think of more in terms of labor opportunities for Syrians. Should refugees have the same privilege to work as migrants? That is a question that no one ministry can answer alone,” the source said.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is monitoring the implementation of the new measures, Syrian refugees have been able to renew their legal stay, but the rules were not being interpreted universally across localities.

“Which is fair enough because the requirements are complicated,” said Dalia Aranki, manager of NRC’s Information, Counseling and Legal Assistance program. “And because they are not interpreted universally means it’s very difficult to give refugees advice on how to renew their residency.”

Many General Security centers are asking for lease agreements signed between Syrian refugees renting from Lebanese landlords, though this is not a technical requirement according to the memorandum. Templates for pledge agreements have been distributed to General Security centers across the country to ensure uniformity. The pledge not to work is being applied everywhere.

Refugees are finding the renewal process tiring. “It’s difficult for people financially going around collecting documents and having to pay notaries,” Aranki added, on top of having to pay the $200 fee.

“The main concern [reported by refugees to NRC] is having to sign the pledge not to work. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people are considering whether they want to renew as UNHCR refugees if required to sign it, because they are concerned about what might happen to them if they are subsequently caught working,” Aranki said.

When confronted with the fact that some refugees might opt to forgo UNHCR status as a result of the new measures, the government source replied: “What’s wrong with this? When a Syrian has been here for four years? This allows them access to the labor market.”

The Interior Ministry is still in discussions with the UNHCR over the new regulations. “We are open to basically, not change, but facilitate,” the source said.

The document also provides provisions for Syrian nationals who entered the country illegally, requiring them to pay a fine of $600 and re-enter the country through a legal crossing. An entry ban will be imposed on those who cannot pay the fee upon departure.

The NRC also expressed concern for the onus put on Lebanese citizens to sponsor Syrian nationals. “The Lebanese national is providing a guarantee for the Syrian person ... It opens up the potential for exploitation,” Aranki said.

The new measures are in line with government policy toward Syrian refugees since October 2014, when Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s Cabinet issued a document formally articulating its policy intentions toward refugees, namely, to reduce their numbers, ensure the country’s security and stability and decrease the burden of refugees on Lebanon.

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