By June 2013, over 1.6 million people fled Syria in search of protection and access to essential services. Their legal status is primarily governed by the laws of the host country where they reside. The legal framework applicable to asylum seekers and refugees differs significantly between countries and different laws apply to different groups of people. In Lebanon for instance, the situation varies significantly between Syrians and Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS). As a result of this complexity, individuals fleeing Syria are often unaware of their rights and obligations. Overall, the people fleeing Syria can be divided into 3 different groups, depending on their status in the host-country:
- Those residing in camps;
- Those who have the appropriate papers and are therefore regularly residing in a country; and
- Those who are irregular, meaning residing in a host country without the required documents.
While these 3 groups are not mutually exclusive, the level of access to services and protection differs between the different groups.
Those residing in camps
In Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, a significant number of the Syrians reside in camps. In general, access to services within the camps is better than that outside, with Governments and NGOs providing access to health care, education and food aid. The quality of these services differs between camps and countries: while services in Turkey are in line with humanitarian standards, water and sanitation facilities in Domiz camp, in the Autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, are of major concern. Mobility in and out of the camps is often restricted: in Jordan and Turkey for example, people are only allowed to leave their camp under certain conditions.
Regular and irregular
Some Syrians entered host-countries through official border crossings, and regularised their stay by obtaining residency permits. For those who do not have Syrian identification and travel documents, it is very difficult to obtain the required papers. As a result, a significant number of those fleeing Syria are officially irregular within the host countries – they have crossed through unofficial crossing points, they do not have the visa/residency papers or these papers have expired. Some Syrians who have entered a country unofficially can regularise their status by registering with the Government, as is the case for instance in Lebanon and Turkey. Amongst other things, irregularity hampers the possibilities to obtain a work permit as, in all countries but Iraq, residency papers are required to obtain such a permit.
Access to services is generally dependent on registration with UNHCR, although in Turkey it rests with the Government. Registration is open to all refugees, including those who have not regularised their status and provides access to international protection, aid and services. In Jordan for instance, free access to health care is only available to registered refugees.