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Syrian Refugees risk being considered illegal

Source: Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) - Thu, 3 Apr 2014 10:14 GMT
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A young boy in an Informal Settlement in Central Bekaa, Lebanon. Photo: NRC/Ingrid Prestetun
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The number of refugees fleeing from Syria into neighbouring Lebanon has surpassed 1 million. Many risk being considered illegal because they lack legal entry and stay documentation, according to a new report from NRC.

“It is shocking that one million people who have fled from the horrific violence in Syria have to find the money so they are not illegally present in Lebanon, the country they fled to for safety. We have seen that refugees cannot afford the high cost and some are actually going back to Syria risking their lives, to renew their residency visa” says NRC Lebanon’s Country Director, Niamh Murnaghan, as Lebanon reaches the one million registered Syrian refugee mark today.

Without legal entry and stay documentation, Lebanon considers refugees from Syria, including Palestinian refugees from Syria, to be illegally present in the country, not recognising them as being in need of specific protection as refugees. In a new report published today NRC found that this has a devastating impact on refugees’ freedom of movement and their ability to work, to access healthcare and to access justice; 85% of refugees without legal stay who were surveyed reported that they could not renew their residency visa because they could not afford the annual USD200 per person and 11% reported going back to Syria so they could get another year for free upon re-entry into Lebanon.

“I lost my seven year old and went to the police to ask them to help me to look for her. They arrested me for six days because I had no proof of legal stay and did not look for my daughter-she is still missing” a 35-year old father from Syria told NRC.

Lebanon, the highest per capita refugee hosting nation on earth is now hosting one million registered refugees, 230 refugees for every 1,000 Lebanese. Lebanon has been extraordinarily generous in providing safety for families fleeing the horrors of conflict.

The crisis in Syria has cost the country more than USD7.5 billion, with municipal budgets, infrastructure and basic services facing total collapse. While host communities have been exceptionally welcoming of refugees, there are signs of growing discontentment and discrimination against people who have fled Syria’s violence.

Host populations and refugees alike face rising food and rental prices, overcrowding in schools and hospitals and increased competition for paid work. Daily wages in Lebanon have hit rock bottom. 170,000 Lebanese have been pushed into poverty by the Syria crisis. This risks further destabilisation of the entire region.

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