Housing, Land and Property Issues of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon from Homs City: Implications of the Protracted Refugee Crisis - November 2018

Introduction

In 2018, the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) estimated the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to be 1.5 million (Government of Lebanon and the United Nations, 2018). Successive studies have decried the poor living conditions of this vulnerable population (UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP, 2013; 2015). Seven years into the crisis, Syrian refugee conditions have worsened. Those who had brought along assets (such as jewellery) have sold them in their first years after arrival and those with savings have exhausted them. Despite the large presence of and remarkable efforts by local and international organizations to provide relief and support, most of these refugees have only managed to sustain their livelihoods by joining into the scores of vulnerable populations living in Lebanon, including Palestinian, Iraqi and other refugees; migrant workers; and impoverished Lebanese individuals and communities (Martin, 2015). As unemployment soars and the economic crisis peaks in Lebanon, refugee relief has dwindled. Thus, these vulnerable groups face serious impediments to improving their livelihoods, amid a severely deficient system of public healthcare, education and housing. Among these vulnerable groups, Syrian refugees encounter the additional challenge of the national regulatory framework that governs their presence and work in Lebanon, becoming tighter since 2015, particularly in relation to refugees’ ability to maintain a legal stay in the country. The lack of legal status in turn exposes them to exploitation, especially in the context of rising tensions with host communities.

Taking the refugees from Homs City in Syria (Figure 5), hereafter also referred to as Homs, as its target group, the report provides a snapshot of this group’s shelter conditions in Lebanon. The main questions that the study seeks to answer are the following:
Where have Syrian refugees from Homs settled in Lebanon and why? What type of shelter/housing arrangements have they secured, seven years into the crisis, and how have they accessed them? How stable are their current housing arrangements? Have shelter conditions (e.g. quality of housing, services, crowdedness) improved in this situation of protracted crisis? Zooming in further on the conditions of shelter acquisition, the study examines the factors that influence these refugees’ access to housing. It explores the functioning of the rental market through which most of the refugees have accessed housing, and it investigates the impacts of the legal framework on the functioning of the market. After presenting the study findings, the report concludes with a set of recommendations to inform current responses to the refugee crisis in the shelter sector.

In order to address the above-mentioned questions, the study relied on a household survey that assessed shelter conditions during July 2017, as well as seven focus group discussions (FGDs) that followed the survey to validate and complement its findings.

The findings of the survey confirm the bleak picture of poor shelter conditions in which refugees live in Lebanon. They indicate that refugees have accessed shelter largely through an informal rental market, securing substandard accommodations, often in areas where other vulnerable population groups reside. This has taken place within the general context of a country where no affordable shelter strategy has been formulated for decades.

All in all, the report’s main takeaway is critical, yet simple: In the absence of a public framework of affordable housing provision in Lebanon, most refugees (and other vulnerable groups) will continue to rely on a weakly regulated rental housing market to fulfil their shelter needs. While extremely elastic in its ability to produce a very large volume of shelters in a short time span, this housing market fails to secure adequate contractual terms for landlords and tenants, ultimately leading to very poor-quality shelter and increasing the vulnerability of refugees. Immediate responses that build on the advantages of these informal markets (e.g. flexibility) while mitigating their severe shortcomings (e.g. by applying some quality control and clear contractual terms) constitute an ideal first step to improve housing quality and reduce negative uncertainties. On the long run, it is imperative to shift the shelter approach away from the crisis response mode towards the adoption of an affordable housing framework in Lebanon, where the social value of housing and consequently the right to adequate shelter (Box 1) are recognized and supported, for all vulnerable populations, whether they are permanent or transient, nationals or foreigners.

PROJECT SIGNIFICANCE

The project contributes to the current knowledge about Syrian refugee populations in Lebanon and, more generally, about refugee trajectories in the context of a protracted refugee crisis, particularly in relation to shelter acquisition.

First, the data generated during the survey and FGDs provide important insights about shelter conditions and refugee trajectories in Lebanon for the formulation of responses whether in the form of targeted interventions or broader developmental policies. The results show that in the absence of an adequate framework of shelter provision, the laissez-faire environment/ manner in which housing transactions are occurring among actors in highly differentiated social positions has very negative implications for the refugee community. This can further inform policymakers and other actors in the shelter sector about the current operations of the housing market.

Second, a shelter approach that is broadened beyond the measurement of deficits to outline stakeholders’ roles and conditions provides new directions for organizations, academics and policymakers to address the refugee shelter question, and consequently a different set of strategies for refugee shelter responses.

The report carries further academic significance since it draws attention to the impact of social networks and legality on refugees’ situations in host countries, especially in cases where aid is dwindling, leaving vulnerable population groups in a precarious situation.

The results reported in this study also aim to raise public awareness about the implications of the absence of affordable housing programmes and the current restrictions that refugees face in Lebanon, as well as the limited ability of Syrian communities to access adequate shelter.