Alef Liban – for refugee rights in Lebanon

by Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview withAlefLiban about Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Alef says that the Lebanese Government has to respond better to this emergency.
What are the main difficulties that refugees face?
The Syrian refugees in Lebanon face series of challenges all generating from an overarching problem: the lack of a comprehensive policy regulating the stay of refugees in Lebanon in the midst of ad hoc restrictive policies. In that regard Syrians face challenges to their livelihood as the Lebanese government restricts the right to work on all Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In addition to that Syrians also face great pressure and a long-term problem as they aren’t able to register their new-borns resulting in an increase in stateless children among Syrian refugees. Furthermore Syrians also face problems such as limited access to education, a narrow access to healthcare and an increase in their reliance on a shrinking international aid. 
What are, according your experience, the most effective ways to face these difficulties?
The most effective way is to work in a converted effort on finding practical ways to implement durable solutions. This will not only require better response from the international community to enlarge their role in burden sharing, but it will also require a political will from the Lebanese government. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is certainly exhausting the Lebanese infrastructure and is causing an increasing pressure on resilience of host communities. However this essentially requires a better response from the Lebanese government. Problems affecting Syrians are basic human rights, and any response should be addressed in a rights based method, the Lebanese government has the duty and obligation to provide these rights to Lebanese, and Syrians and all other individuals alike. The Lebanese government cannot let go of such obligations claiming that it is not the obligation of the government. 
How do you advocate refugees right at the international and national level?
To be sure, few expected the Syrian conflict to drag on for this long, let alone that the number of refugees would surpass the million mark but years into the conflict the scale of the humanitarian crisis continues to grow.
For the majority of the millions of refugees from Syria living in Lebanon, returning home, in the short to mid-term, faces a myriad of challenges making such an option close to impossible. An opportunity exists for Lebanon to develop its domestic legal framework regarding the treatment of refugees, and draws a legal distinction between Syrian refugees and other types of immigrants and visitors. By doing so, Lebanon will uphold its international obligation to provide protection to those with a well-founded fear of persecution.
However, the responsibility for protecting and upholding the rights of the refugee population does not lie only with Lebanon. International support to the country and well as to Syrian refugees must increase. Resolutions, as well as mitigating solutions to restrictive policies require intervention from a broad range of actors. While the specificities of Lebanon’s experience demand a sustainable political and humanitarian effort, responding to the more immediate issues requires a wide, more comprehensive and creative approach to the principles of protection and burden sharing.
Burden sharing and resettlement
Even if international financial support to the Lebanese government to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the influx of refugees has been substantial in absolute figures, it falls short of the needs of the Lebanese state, the Syrian refugees and their hosting communities. Material assistance should not be considered the sole requirement of burden sharing. Resettlement, security coordination, humanitarian evacuation and other forms of sustainable actions must also be part of the international community’s support to Lebanon to mitigate the risks, fears and demographic challenges. The support provided must be made conditional on key criteria with regard to protection of refugees.
In that regard, ALEF call upon:
·         The government of Lebanon and, the European Union and EU member states to ensure and increase funding to enable direct assistance for both basic and critical needs to mitigate policy impact
·         The EU and EU member states to intensify efforts to increase the number of places for Syrian refugees globally, including humanitarian admission, or other forms of admission
·         The EU and EU member states to seek a joint advocacy with the government of Lebanon on points of agreement, such as resettlement, and a durable political solution to the Syrian Conflict
·         The UNHCR to continue and intensify advocacy efforts towards states to increase the number of places for Syrian refugees globally on resettlement, humanitarian admission, or other forms of admission
·         Cooperation between actors in aid agencies, academia, think tanks, local government, and the private sector is needed to convey support and messaging advocating the fair treatment of refugees
Restrictive measures push refugees into illegality
The so-called “October policy”, restricting entry and stay in Lebanon for Syrians, has led to a very high number of Syrians disappearing in illegality. Some 70 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not have valid legal stay in the country. This leaves them subject to harassment, violence, and the restriction of movement, employment and decent livelihoods. While the restrictive measures were taken with the argument of protecting security, these measures actually lead to an increased pressure on security, with violent incidents, problems in documenting figures and location of refugees, refugees living and working illegally and hardship leading to an increased threat of crime and radicalization. Efforts to ensure all civilians from Syria seeking safety and international protection have access to UNHCR registration, regardless of means of entry or employment status are an immediate priority.
Therefore, ALEF call upon:
·         The government of Lebanon to remove barriers that prevent Syrians from pursuing sustainable livelihoods, including restrictions on the right to work, and the right to self-sustain. An overall framework should be pursued to enable those who can be self-sufficient to do so without having to resort to harmful negative coping mechanisms
·         The government of Lebanon to engage in vulnerability-based assistance, including for non-registered Syrians and host communities
·         The EU and EU member states to communicate to their Lebanese partners the benefits of supporting refugees, including increased control over informal workers, tax income, filling employment and social stability
·         The EU and EU member states to highlight with their Lebanese partners the importance of NGOs in outreach, community mobilization, and service delivery
·         The UNHCR and other aid agencies to increase and improve communications to both the Lebanese government and the public around programs supporting Lebanese citizens, and the positive impacts of assistance on local communities and economies
Within the framework of the October Policy, Lebanon’s General Security is empowered to restrict or approve the entry of Syrian nationals according to specific categories under its discretion, ultimately blurring the lines between whom the government considers to be displaced, refugees, and migrants. While the justification of a systematic review to ensure that those registered as refugees are indeed within the well-established criteria is evident, an independent needs-based assessment must be done on a case-by-case basis with due consideration for the specific socio-economic and other sector-specific vulnerabilities of the individual. An opportunity exists for Lebanon to develop its domestic legal framework regarding the treatment of refugees, and draws a legal distinction between Syrian refugees and other types of immigrants and visitors.
Therefore, ALEF call upon:
·         The government of Lebanon and the EU and EU member states to ensure that the review process for the status of refugees already in Lebanon is in line with international standards and done on a case-by-case basis, including when considering internal flight or relocation alternatives and voluntary repatriation 

·         The government of Lebanon to provide access to legal status and birth registration for all Syrian men, women and children
·         The government of Lebanon to develop a clear legal framework for refugees/displaced based on well-established protection criteria
·         The UNHCR to continue to assist the Lebanese authorities in conducting human rights and refugee law training of local municipal officials as well as border officers
Dealing with mass influx of refugees
While Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol, it is a party to a number of human rights treaties, and is bound to international customary norms, including the principle of non-refoulement, which safeguards individuals from being returned to environments or situations where they are at risk of persecution or serious human rights abuses. ALEF and PAX, while holding the Lebanese authorities accountable to its duties under international refugee and human rights law, recognize that Lebanon is facing an unprecedented challenge and cannot be expected to resolve the mass influx of refugees from Syria on their own.
Therefore, ALEF call upon: 
·         The EU and EU member states to develop more effective and predictable responses to mass influx situations that will improve responsibility-sharing arrangements to share the burdens of first asylum countries.
·         The government of Lebanon to reiterate the unconditional commitment to the principle of non-refoulement 
·         The government of Lebanon to continue to provide access of Syrian refugees on the basis of stricter review process in compliance with international refugee law standards, in particular the principle of non- refoulement and with human rights law
In what consists the program for the Women’s Socio-Economic Empowerment in Lebanon?
The project seeks to focus on the legislative and behavioural challenges and inhibitors facing the socio-economic empowerment of women in Lebanon. Despite the different programs and projects by different organizations in Lebanon seeking to enhance the participation of women in economic and social life, certain legal frameworks in particular the Labor Law and the Law of the National Social Security Fund generates limitations and inhibitors to women socio-economic roles. Such policies do not regard women as equal to men in family life, and restrain from women a number of rights. Alef works with a number of other organizations on lobbying state institutions to reform these laws in order to enhance the role of women in socio-economic life. This also includes targeting the private sector and businesses to enhance their understanding of equality. 
Do you cooperate with local authorities and local communities? If yes, how?
ALEF believes that municipalities play an active and vital role in protecting human rights and in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, as they are part of the state and hence are tasked with carrying certain obligations. Thus, ALEF seeks to support local municipalities in addressing the crisis in a manner that is in accordance to human rights standards through reducing the tension between Syrian refugees and host communities, reducing and eliminating tensions that are a product of the scarcity of available resources on the national level for Syrian refugees, and raising awareness about the importance of using a rights-based approach.
In order to put this theory into practice, ALEF has been working on a project entitled “Towards Protection- Friendly Local Governance”, which builds the capacity of two selected municipalities in the areas of human rights, refugee protection policies, conflict prevention and resolution, and engages Lebanese and Syrian communities in joint development initiatives. This is meant to progressively raise the awareness of municipality members on their responsibilities in adopting protection- friendly rights- based policies within their communities, and their ability to independently create mechanisms that oversee this. This will be central to creating a common understanding of human and refugee rights among participants, mobilizing them towards creating a mechanism involving both Lebanese and Syrian representatives who will identify the main needs and challenges that both Syrian and Lebanese host communities feel are urgent to address. To this end, 12 municipality members attended 4 workshops on human rights, refugee protection policies, conflict prevention and resolution in targeted municipalities, and in close coordination with municipality members, 20 representatives of the Lebanese and Syrian communities designed and implemented 2 development initiatives.