No place to stay? Reflections on the Syrian refugee shelter policy in Lebanon

Report
from UN Human Settlements Program
Published on 30 Sep 2015 View Original

In Lebanon, the question of hosting and ensuring protection for Syrian refugees in light of the government stance against the erection of camps has created many deliberations concerning different proposed and implemented shelter options and solutions. UN-Habitat, in partnership with the American University of Beirut’s (AUB) Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), initiated a research study in July 2014 to address solutions for hosting and ensuring protection for refugees specifically on the subject of erecting camps to address the Syrian crisis. The study looked at the issue given the context of complex historic, political, socio-economic and governance conditions that are specific to Lebanon. The results of this research study are published in this report.

The report aims to provide concerned actors (governmental institutions, IOs, local authorities and NGOs) with some tools to make informed decisions and enact effective policies that apply in Lebanon. Furthermore, this report contributes to the academic literature pertaining to the case of establishing camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and response to the need for research and analysis on the subject. More importantly, and based on the evidence collected from extensive fieldwork, interviews and focus group discussions conducted for this study, the report provides recommendations for viable and realistic shelter responses.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. In Lebanon, the question of hosting and ensuring protection for Syrian refugees in light of the government stance against the erection of camps has created many deliberations concerning different proposed and implemented shelter options and solutions. Among these solutions, the proposition of creating refugee camps has been subject to clearly opposing views.

ii. The shelter issue becomes more compounded given the protracted nature of the refugee crisis and the repercussions on Lebanon, which would necessitate long-term, feasible and contextualized solutions.

iii. As such, UN-Habitat, in partnership with the American University of Beirut’s (AUB) Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), initiated a research study in July 2014 to address solutions for hosting and ensuring protection for refugees specifically on the subject of erecting camps to address the Syrian crisis. The study looked at the issue given the context of complex historic, political, socio-economic and governance conditions that are specific to Lebanon. The results of this research study are published in this report, which comes four years after the crisis, and benefits from the ability to reflect on the emergency response during the “stabilization” phase, which Lebanon has entered in the beginning of 2015.

iv. This report supports and is designed to serve the collective aims of the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), to effectually approach the needs of the Syrian refugee community, one of the most vulnerable populations in Lebanon. The LCRP, formulated by the Lebanese government in partnership with United Nations (UN) agencies and various international organizations (IOs) and international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), aims to strengthen the implementation of the refugee response, building on lessons learned over the last few years.

v. This report reflects the emerging challenges to shelter options in Lebanon, while highlighting the complex realities on the ground with respect to the shelter response and all of the respective parties involved.

vi. The report aims to provide concerned actors (governmental institutions,
IOs, local authorities and NGOs) with some tools to make informed decisions and enact effective policies that apply in Lebanon. Furthermore, this report contributes to the academic literature pertaining to the case of establishing camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and response to the need for research and analysis on the subject. More importantly, and based on the evidence collected from extensive fieldwork, interviews and focus group discussions conducted for this study, the report provides recommendations for viable and realistic shelter responses.

TO ELABORATE:

vii. The report primarily highlights the significant role that municipalities in Lebanese host communities are playing in the response. Any response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon – with respect to shelter concerns or otherwise – should acknowledge municipalities as players also dealing with this refugee influx, in addition to the central government and international organizations. viii. The report emphasizes that the Lebanese government and the international community should not view the establishment of Syrian refugee camps as an optimal solution to the protracted refugee crisis. It concludes that it has become far too late to erect camps to house existing refugees in Lebanon.

ix. While establishing camps is part of the contingency plan to absorb large refugee influxes, and as the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM) still considers refugee camps as a viable option to relocate refugees (in certain “hot spots”, not across the country) and to cope with evictions and for security reasons (in Arsal, for example), the findings of this research show that there are many adverse implications (particularly on the social, political and economic levels) of establishing refugee camps in Lebanon at this stage.

x. Therefore, shelter policies and programs should focus on: 1) upgrading the existing substandard shelter in addition to pursuing additional plans and adopted alternative shelter options and 2) upgrading the neighborhoods and areas impacted by the crisis and address, in the same manner, the emergence of informal settlements.

xi. This report ultimately advocates a move towards the implementation of a comprehensive security approach which includes policies that are not discriminatory against refugees, do not violate human rights, and are properly enforced. Suggested measures would involve the abolishment of curfews on Syrian refugees while proposing community forms of policing, and supporting municipalities financially and technically to enforce security measures. Ultimately, refugees should be granted a rights-based, transparent legal status.

xii. Learning from the “Palestinian experience”, this report recommends that initiatives and projects should be designed and implemented, to allow both Syrian refugees and members of the Lebanese host communities to work side-by-side, thereby leading to decreasing levels of tension and lower perceptions of the “other” as a threat. This will facilitate the successful integration of refugees into host communities. xiii. Such projects would also benefit the local economy while providing refugees with the chance to sustain their livelihood so as to eliminate the aid-dependent perception of refugees as bodies to be fed. Indeed, engaging refugees in a planned manner in the Lebanese labor market will benefit the refugees themselves as well as the country as a whole. Such projects would also alleviate the marginalization and impoverishment of both Lebanese communities and Syrian refugees.

TO CONCLUDE:

xiv. Lebanon’s experience with the Syrian refugee crisis and the debate over the establishment of camps is a unique case, which portrays the prominence of the local context and the need to adapt any response to the realities on the ground. This flags the importance of pausing to understand the complexities of local contexts prior to proposing solutions such as refugee camps that would not only affect refugees, but also host communities, as well as national economic, societal and political realities.