A report released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW) details mass evictions of over 3,500 Syrian refugees from various regions of Lebanon. Hostility towards Syrians is rising and other discriminatory restrictions have been introduced, the report finds.
The report, which was released Friday, is titled "Our Homes are not for Strangers: Mass Evictions of Syrian Refugees by Lebanese Municipalities." According to the authors, at least 3,664 Syrians have been expelled from at least 13 municipalities since the beginning of 2016 through the first quarter of 2018. The UN refugee agency UNHCR also says around 42,000 Syrian refugees remained at risk of eviction in 2017.
Lebanese politicians have been blaming Syrian refugees for the country's economic and social woes. "Any foreigner who is in our country, without us agreeing to it, is an occupier, no matter where they come from," Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said in October of last year. "Syrian citizens – our brothers and sisters – only have one choice: to return to their country", he added. Lebanese President Michel Aoun also called for the return of Syrian refugees and said in October that the country "can no longer cope" with them.
HRW says Syrian refugees are being evicted in 13 municipalities around Lebanon. These municipalities are often predominantly Christian with many of the refugee evictees claiming that they were forced out of their residences due to their Muslim beliefs. One Syrian woman from Deir el-Zour said she was evicted was due to her hijab. Another Syrian said that he was forced to leave, solely because of his religion.
Evictions across the country
Beside religious beliefs, there have been other causes for the evictions. HRW monitored several cases all around the country. One incident described in the report was the "scapegoating" of Syrian refugees in the village of Mizyara in northern Lebanon. In September 2017, a Lebanese woman was supposedly raped and killed inside her house. A Syrian in the village was accused of carrying out the act and the citizens of Mizyara retaliated by calling for all Syrians to be expelled from the village.
The way the evictions were carried out also differed. In the municipality of Zahle, for example, the police went methodically block by block to demand that refugees leave and coerced them to sign eviction notices that were then posted on their doors. In the municipality of Hadath, the mayor and authorities began pressuring Syrian refugees to leave.
Under Lebanese law, the courts suggest that landlords may not evict a tenant without a court order. If an individual is unable to pay their rent, the landlord must go through a legal framework in order to evict them from their apartment or residence. But many Syrians who were evicted said there was no court order: "There was no court, no judge, no legal procedure," 57-year old Hafez, a resident of Hadath said. He was evicted in January 2018.
The Syrian refugees who were evicted by their landlords often faced losses both financially and of property. It also caused children to miss even months of schooling. Many of the migrants faced a psychological toll of being evicted from their apartments, where they may have lost friendships and neighbors who they had known for a long period of time.
Other restrictions placed on Syrian refugees in Lebanon
In additions to evictions of Syrian refugees across the country, other discriminatory restrictions on Syrian refugees have been put into place. Many municipalities have begun imposing curfews. One Syrian refugee living in Mount Lebanon Governate told HRW that he cannot leave the house after 5 p.m. and that once, he had been in an emergency situation at 9 p.m. and had needed medical help. Other restrictions imposed are checkpoints as well as the introduction of ID cards: Syrian refugees are given special ID papers and municipalities threaten those who do not pay to renew the cards with expulsion.
In the municipality of Bcharre, Syrian refugee children had been banned from their public schools from the beginning of the 2017 school year. One Syrian woman, 34-year old Sham, was evicted from Bcharre in November 2017 and all four of her children could no longer attend school in Bcharre. "I want my children to have an education and to be treated the way Lebanese would treat their children," she told HRW.