Lebanon restrictions fear Syrian refugees

Lebanon restrictions fear Syrian refugees

BEIRUT - Reuters
Lebanon restrictions fear Syrian refugees

A refugee hangs her laundry at a UNHCR camp in south Lebanon. AFP Photo

New rules in Lebanon, which has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, have left many thousands of them at risk of abuse from landlords and detention at any time, aid workers and a rights group has said. 

Four years of civil war across the border in Syria means that one in every four people now in Lebanon is a refugee. Many live in extreme poverty and face hostility and resentment in the fragile Mediterranean state, which has long dominated by its bigger neighbor and suffered civil war itself from 1975-90. 

The new policy, implemented this year, requires Syrians entering Lebanon to obtain visas - before they could come and go with ease - and the process for renewing residency permits for those already here is impassable for many, aid workers and Syrians warn. 

Unless they are sponsored by a company, Syrians now have to provide several documents, including a signed pledge not to work and a rental agreement from their landlord. Without these, they can be arrested and detained in prison for, refugees say, weeks at a time. 

“This legislation has the potential to create abuse,” says Dana Sleiman, a Beirut-based spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. 

“We have received reports of alleged abuse by landlords such as bribes and labour in exchange for signing the housing commitment.” 

This happened to Amer, a 31-year-old Syrian who works in restaurants in the capital. He lives in a two bedroom apartment with four others.  “When we asked the landlord to sign a rental contract, he said: ‘I can’t do it, if I sign a rental contract, I will have to pay the municipality and taxes, it will cost me. Or you can pay me double the rent’.”