Parliamentary elections and three international conferences in support of Lebanon took place during the first half of 2018, whereby international partners recognized the tremendous challenges facing Lebanon and pledged substantial support. Nonetheless, host community fatigue over the protracted stay of close to 1 million registered Syrian refugees continued to grow after the elections, with rising calls on refugee returns to start taking place in larger numbers. The reporting period also saw a rise in municipal restrictions targeting refugees. Protection risks heightened due to the increasingly tense environment and challenges, such as the widespread lack of legal residency and limited possibilities for refugees to find daily labour opportunities. The Lebanon Partnership Paper for the Brussels II Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region" in April thus stressed the need to enhance access to legal residency and ensure respect for the rule of law. UNHCR continued to update the data of the registered Syrian refugee population, which stood at 976,065 by mid-year, and embarked on a verification exercise of the registered refugees of other nationalities, who numbered 19,930 by end-June.
This report provides an update on key developments and UNHCR activities during the first six months of 2018 in narrative and numbers (please see also an indicator report at the end of the document).
Access to territory
Access to territory for Syrians remains curtailed since 2015, when visa requirements and limited humanitarian exception criteria were introduced by the Government of Lebanon (GOL). UNHCR border teams are deployed at official border crossing points in Eastern and Northern Lebanon to, notably, assess the motivation for entry or exit of people departing or arriving, identify and submit humanitarian admission cases, and provide counselling on border admission regulations to people of concern. The need for more protection-sensitive admission criteria and a full and inclusive application of the humanitarian admission criteria was again demonstrated by a tragic event in January 2018, when 16 Syrians froze to death while trying to enter Lebanon through a smuggling route; at least 23 individuals have died while trying to reach safety in Lebanon this past winter.
UNHCR conducted a quantitative survey of more than 11,500 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR at the end of 2017 to assess how many of the refugees who possessed the required UNHCR documents had been able to renew their legal residency based on the March 2017 fee waiver. The survey was complemented with 18 focus group discussions involving more than 200 refugees of different ages, gender and backgrounds, and focused on the impact of the lack of legal residency. The findings show that 67% of those who managed to submit their application for residency received a free renewal, while many refugees continued facing difficulties to obtain or renew legal residency due to a variety of factors, including access to the procedure or eligibility criteria. However, the survey also shows that the obstacles identified can be overcome through continued support to capacity development, even and predictable practices, further policy developments particularly at the central level, and the continued dissemination of information about the criteria and procedures for obtaining legal residency.
These findings have been used to inform UNHCR’s continued advocacy for a full and inclusive application of the fee waiver, its expansion to categories of refugees currently not covered, information sharing and counselling to refugees, and increased capacity support to the GSO. As a result, during the first half of 2018, 14 GSO centres had been equipped with computers and other electronic devices, as well as cabling and furniture, under UNHCR’s project in support of GSO’s expanded capacity to facilitate residency renewals for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Out of these centres, 11 were fully operational and processing residency renewals for UNHCR certificate holders by mid-year, while three others will be operational by the end of September 2018. Additionally, as all residency applications are sent from the regional GSO centres to the GSO central in Beirut for examination and issuance of permits, UNHCR has committed to rehabilitate a building belonging to GSO central, which will increase the operating space of the responsible GSO unit.
Civil documentation including birth registration
Since the beginning of the crisis and as of June 2018, around 160,000 children born in Lebanon to registered Syrian refugees have been added to their parents’ files. UNHCR is supporting the PSD to implement new measures (see “Policy Update” box, left) by increasing its capacity to register civil events. UNHCR also continues to inform refugees on civil registration procedures through mass communication tools, community-based approaches, and legal counselling at community centres and UNHCR reception centres, as well as through outreach volunteers, protection staff and partners.
While UNHCR is not organizing voluntary repatriation to Syria at this time, the Office is helping refugees returning spontaneously to Syria, individually or in groups through the GSO, to speedily obtain documents certifying vital events that have taken place during their exile in Lebanon. To achieve this, UNHCR is working with legal aid partners and civil registry authorities to support the fast-tracking of such documents and advocate for further simplification of procedures. Having these documents enables the people to re-establish themselves back home and facilitates access to institutions and services.
In Lebanon, refugees as well as vulnerable Lebanese have access to information, safe spaces, social services, counselling and life-skills activities around the country through MOSA’s Social Development Centres (SDCs) and Community Development Centres (CDCs) managed by NGO partners. UNHCR has supported MOSA’s SDCs since 2007 and CDCs since 2002, and is currently supporting 63 SDCs and 15 CDCs with staff and activities benefitting both Lebanese and refugees. A network of more than 640 outreach volunteers is also mobilized to help UNHCR provide up-to-date information to refugee communities on developments in policies, procedures and services affecting refugees, and raise awareness about a wide range of topics. To contribute to the GOL’s development of a national social protection system, benefitting Lebanese and non-Lebanese, UNHCR concluded an agreement with MOSA on the development of an online data and information management system and social service cards. Specifically, this project aims to strengthen the planning, design, monitoring, evaluation and overall management of, as well as State accountability for, the services offered by MOSA's SDCs to Lebanese and nonLebanese, including refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR.