Syrian refugee children playing at the playground of a United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) school in the Saadnayel informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon EPA/ Nabil Mounzer
Syrian refugee children playing at the playground of a United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) school in the Saadnayel informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon EPA/ Nabil Mounzer

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said there has been a "positive turn" in 2018 for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In a statement, it said that although negative rhetoric and unlawful evictions escalated in late 2017, policy changes that give more refugees a chance at legal residency are "reasons for optimism."

Lebanon has the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, hosting nearly 1.5 million refugees. In September 2017 at the UN General Assembly, Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for commencing returns of refugees from Syria without the need to ensure that returns were voluntary. "We, and virtually everybody else in the international community, maintain that the returns must be voluntary," said Mike Bruce, NRC's advocacy and information adviser in Lebanon.


 In addition, the organization said that since the Lebanese government does not allow formal refugee camps, Syrian refugees settle in informal settlements or find private accommodation. "Over 76 per cent of Syrians live below the national poverty line," NRC said. In 2017, there was an increase in unlawful evictions of Syrians living in Lebanese towns, evictions which NRC said "have severe impact on the lives of the affected Syrian refugees."

 "Positive turn" in 2018

 "In 2018, we have seen a positive turn," NRC said. "The negative rhetoric has subsided and there have been fewer evictions"."This year, the political dialogue has been much more moderate towards refugees and return," Bruce said. The organization said conditions remain difficult for refugees, however, as 74% of all Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not have legal residency and lack identification documents, risking arrest and detention. It said some have even dropped out of school out of fear of being arrested while travelling to school. 

Though struggles to obtain legal residency continue for refugees, NRC said a positive development is that the government of Lebanon has recently made an effort to improve the legal situation for newborn Syrians and Syrian youth. Previously, parents had to register their newborn babies within a 12-month timeframe to receive identity documents, but in March 2018, this deadline was lifted for refugees from Syria. Additionally, the government recently changed regulations to permit some Syrian youth aged 15 to 18 to obtain temporary residency, including youth who lack legal identity documents. "These changes are all extremely positive, and very bold moves by the government of Lebanon," says Bruce.
 

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