During the past year, the number of political statements asserting that the armed conflict in Syria has ended has increased, calling for Syrian refugees to submit to the “voluntary return” plan proposed by the Lebanese government by the end of 2022. This plan aims for the return of 15,000 refugees per month, with the absence of any official participation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and without any consideration to the United Nations’ or any international organization’s assessment of the reality of the situation in Syria. This political trend was accompanied by policies to pressure Syrian refugees to return to their home country, increasing their legal insecurity in Lebanon. Since April 2023, we have witnessed an escalation of arbitrary security crackdowns and raids on places of residence of Syrian refugees in multiple Lebanese regions, resulting in the arbitrary arrest and forced deportation of many refugees. In its report published on the 19th of May 2023, titled “Lebanon’s Violation of Human Rights Through the Forced Deportation of Refugees”, ACHR asserted that the Lebanese authorities arbitrarily arrested at least 808 refugees, with at least 336 detained refugees being forcibly deported.
In this context, Public Works Studio has monitored and documented the official policies, draft laws and inciting statements accompanying the aforementioned security crackdown, all forming a systematic endeavor to demonize the Syrian community. Accordingly, this report analyzes housing threats reported by Syrians to the Housing Monitor between June 2022 – October 2023. This is then presented through a timeline that documents discriminatory policies and raids against Syrian refugees carried out by a multiplicity of local and national actors. Additionally, the report profiles selected cases of forced evictions, illustrating how the housing rights of Syrians in Lebanon are conditioned by power, securitization, and legal vulnerability.
Timeline of Eviction Threats, Discriminatory Policies, and Raids Against Syrian Refugees
Starting February 2023, the number of reports received on our Housing Monitor hotline increased exponentially. The increase was due to a number of events that unfolded, related partially to the dollarization of rents, the Earthquake that hit the Middle East, and the stopping of the cash-for-rent program by UNHCR. However, it was also mainly exacerbated with the recent political trend involving the implementation of policies aimed at pressuring Syrian refugees to return to their home country.
This timeline summarizes housing threats reported by Syrians to the Housing Monitor between June 2022 – October 2023, alongside a series of notable events that took place during this period. The events were thus categorized according to discriminatory practices against Syrian refugees carried out by:
- Government, Ministries or Parliament
- Local Authorities (Municipalities or Governors)
- Security Forces
- Lebanese Civilians
When we placed these events / practices in chronological order alongside the monthly reports of eviction threats received at PW’s Housing Monitor hotline, the significantly increasing number of reports made sense. Since the beginning of February 2023, the number of reports reached 145 calls, to be compared with 30, the typical average number of monthly reports. The numbers then fluctuated and reached a peak of 227 reports in April, and 143 in August.
It was evident that the predominant reason behind this surge in numbers was related to the incitement campaign carried out by official entities against Syrian refugees, which coincided with security raids and forced deportations conducted by security forces across the country. This was in addition to media campaigns that focused on demonizing Syrian refugees in Lebanon and attributing to them the responsibility for the economic collapse and crises affecting various sectors such as electricity, housing, water, waste management, and more.
Lebanese authorities, as part of this systematic and racist campaign, are encroaching upon the rights of Syrian refugees on a daily basis. This is specifically relevant in the Ministry of Interior’s decision dating 2 May 2023 and subsequent letters to various municipalities and other local authorities, which, under the pretext of conducting a census of Syrian refugees on Lebanese Territories, instructed local authorities to actively block Syrian refugees’ access to housing by denying them the permission to rent, unless they undergo a registration process before the municipality within which territorial scope they currently reside. The Ministry decision does not, however, provide any guidelines or guarantees that would ensure that said local authorities refrain from engaging in discriminatory practices, or from implementing measures that would lead to human rights violations, such as the further displacement and eviction of Syrian Refugees.
Additionally, the various municipal and governerate measures taken as a response to the aforementioned ministerial decision implement all sorts of discriminatory practices that actively limit Syrian refugees’ enjoyment of their right to housing, freedom of movement and right to work.
The decision of the Ministry of the Interior, and related municipal decisions constitute an application of the concept of biopolitics, where the behaviors of individuals – here refugee men and women – and their lives in all their dimensions are subject to the control of the authority. These vital power policies are characterized by an attempt to reshape the composition of society by controlling the housing of Syrian refugees, determining their place of residence, and forcibly evicting them.
More recently, following the Israeli war on Gaza and Lebanon starting on 7 October 2023, and despite the official response for displacement from South Lebanon as per the government emergency safety plan, mayors of border municipalities have reported that Syrian residents in some villages have not left due to non-availability of relocation options, putting them in direct danger; while others who have relocated, have not been counted in official surveys that are limited to Lebanese displacement, which reflects the official shelter plan of the government. Additionally, reports have been collected that displaced Syrians were unable to rent in towns they were relocated to, as some municipalities have put bans on Syrian presence in their locality. As such, this decision and related campaign contributes to a direct threat to Syrian refugees safety during war.
Decision of the Ministry of Interior
As the above timeline indicates, we have observed an escalation and widespread cases of harassment and other manifestations of arbitrariness towards Syrian refugees, specifically starting April 2023. This aggravation coincided with a decision by the Minister of Interior in which he issued directives to governors on this matter. Under the pretext of “the current circumstances that Lebanon is going through” as well as “concern for the supreme national interest,” the Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Judge Bassam Mawlawi, sent a letter on May 2, 2023, directed to governors, municipalities and mayors in villages and cities where Syrian refugees reside or work, with the aim of launching a national survey campaign to count and register them. It is a call for the official registration and verification of all refugees residing within their respective areas, and request that no transaction or statement be organized and that no property be rented to any Syrian refugee prior to verifying his or her registration and his or her possession of legal residence in Lebanon, in addition to conducting a field survey of all institutions and self-employed professionals run by Syrian refugees and verifying their possession of legal licenses.
In effect, and under the pretext of conducting a census of the syrian refugees on lebanese territories and organizing their residency, the Ministry of Interior through this decision authorized local authorities to take arbitrary and discriminatory measures that limited the refugees’ enjoyment of their right as citizens, especially the right to housing, as these measures in many instances led to their eviction and further displacement.
Based on the guidelines outlined in this letter, a number of municipalities issued decrees restricting the movement of Syrian refugees within their scope and preventing them from going on with their lives normally. For example, the municipality of Bzebdine (Baabda district) issued a decision requiring Syrians residing in the town to obtain a special identification card issued by the municipality – independent of the legal residence document – to allow them to continue residing in the town, which contradicts the human right to choose one’s place of residence. The municipality also banned the use of motorcycles at specific times, knowing that they are the most prominent means of movement relied on by refugees (as they remain the cheapest alternative), in a clear violation of their freedom of movement.
Additionally, the municipality of Furn el-Chebbak – Ain el-Remmaneh – Tahwitat al-Ghadeer issued a similar decision, in which it banned the roaming of motorcycles at specific times and asked all home owners to provide the municipality with a copy of all the legal documents of their Syrian tenants and to report their place of work. The decision also implores home owners not carry out any new rental operations before informing the municipality, which strengthens the bureaucracy that leads to the difficulty of accessing or delay in access to housing for these marginalized groups, and exacerbates the authorities’ reach over decision making, which in turn become more reliant on personal relations and the spread of favoritism and clientelism. This municipal decision, which discriminates on the basis of nationality, is reminiscent of similar discriminatory practices used by Lebanese municipalities, such as preventing sections of the population from residing within their jurisdiction on the basis of sect or class, even if they are Lebanese.
Since most Syrian refugees are leasing informally, a decision like that of the Furn el Chebbak municipality is actually a deterrent for landlords to keep renting to refugees since this will require them to pay additional registration fees to the municipality. So rather than undergo the costly legal process of registering leases, it’s easier for the landlords to evict their tenants. This is especially true for refugees who don’t have their residency papers in order, or don’t have papers at all, and whose only option to access housing was through informal rent, and who will definitely struggle to find alternative housing once evicted.
On the ground, these decisions led to violent raids carried out by municipal police and security agencies appointed by the authorities in more than one area, both on homes or in camps inhabited by refugees, often expelling them or threatening them with eviction. The following are examples of cases associated with these decisions.
Related Forced Evictions: Profiling Three Cases
Governor of Beirut Forcibly Evicts at least 70 Residents
On Friday, May 19, 2023, a forced collective eviction of at least 70 residents holding Syrian nationality led by the Governor of Beirut himself, with the support of the Beirut Municipality Guard Unit, took place in the Barbir area on Mohammed Abu Ezz Al-Din street in Beirut. During this raid, an entire building, “Dana Building”, was evacuated and sealed under the pretext that the building was “operated without a permit and occupied by individuals of non-Lebanese nationality, and does not meet the conditions of public safety, protection from hazards, fire safety, and health conditions, which poses significant inconvenience and danger to the vicinity and neighborhood.”
The Dana building, owned by Mustafa Dana, consists of 5 floors. According to a municipal employee during an interview, “the sight of accumulated dirt and waste, and the noise and communal cooking habits that release odors in the vicinity have been distressing to the neighborhood residents” who presumably demanded that the landlord cease renting to Syrians. Additionally, the governor’s decision mentions that complaints from surrounding buildings also led to the eviction decision.
On the day of the eviction, according to the building’s custodian, the municipality arrived around noon and asked residents for identification papers. Many residents of the building already had proper documentation. About an hour later, they left, and the custodian mentioned that there were no conflicts or disputes during the process. Yet, other residents reported clashes and altercations between the municipality representatives and the residents. However, it has since been confirmed that the municipality’s representatives suddenly returned in a “forceful” manner between 4:00 and 5:00 PM that same day and requested the custodian to inform the building’s residents that they must evacuate within a quarter of an hour. The municipality carried out the eviction, sealed the building, confiscated the residents’ belongings inside the houses, and seized 4 to 5 motorcycles. One resident also reported missing sums of money from the homes of some residents1 Information from interviews with custodian and neighbors through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in Muhammad Abu Ezz Al-Din Alley, branching off from Al-Ouzai Street in the Barbir area in May 2023..
Upon meeting with several residents of the neighborhood, including the owner of the neighboring store and the building’s caretaker it was concluded that most of the building’s residents had no alternative housing options to resort to. One of the building’s residents, who had been living there for nearly a month, found himself homeless along with his partner. They were forced to sleep in a storage area for water bottles and containers at the supermarket where they work. According to his account, the rest of the residents had no alternative place to seek refuge or accommodation. Most of them are around 22 years old, residing in most of the apartments through joint arrangements among young people. They work in small jobs like delivery and handling packages, and similar tasks. They also scavenge plastic and containers in the streets to collect recyclables. There are two families that used
to reside in the building, one on the ground floor and the other on the rooftop. Regarding their belongings, some are still locked inside the apartments, while others were safely moved to nearby locations. They reported that the eviction was carried out arbitrarily without allowing them to retrieve their belongings2Information from interviews with neighbors and building owner through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in Muhammad Abu Ezz Al-Din Alley, branching off from Al-Ouzai Street in the Barbir area in May 2023..
We were also informed that the municipality had planned an open meeting with the residents of the Dana Building to allow them to reclaim their belongings and their confiscated identification papers. However, the tenants believed that most of the building’s residents wouldn’t have attended the meeting due to fears of further security measures by the municipality, especially arrest or deportation. Conversely, the municipality did not convene the meeting as planned and neglected to set another date for it3Information from interviews with neighbors and building owner through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in Muhammad Abu Ezz Al-Din Alley, branching off from Al-Ouzai Street in the Barbir area in May 2023..
When we delve into the details of this case and the numerous issues related to the invalid justifications that the Governor relied upon, it becomes evident that the Governor committed several violations with his decision to close down the “Dana Building.” He clearly violated the decree on public safety, the building law, the specified eviction procedures, and other regulations he relied on. He unjustly displaced residents without prior notice, without giving them any grace period or even an opportunity to retrieve their personal belongings, which were confiscated inside the building after being sealed with red wax. This act was more of a militia-like action than a lawful one.
Lebanese Army Destroys 6 Shelter Tents in the Beqaa Region
On September 12, 2023, the Lebanese Army raided Camp No. 066 in the Qab Elias area, known as Hussein Majed Al-Nahar camp, i.e. Shawish camp, which is located behind the municipality and consists of 54 tents. The Army destroyed 6 tents and prevented residents from retrieving any of their furniture, sweeping away electrical devices, and breaking jars of food and television screens.
This raid took place against the backdrop of an individual dispute between a Syrian national and Shawish Hussein, who is considered a well-known and an influential person in the region, which occurred on September 10. As such, when he informed officials of this dispute, they carried out the raid after two days of continuous evacuations of families from the camp, preventing them from rebuilding their tents, and implementing the official decision issued by the Minister of Interior and Municipalities in an unfair and haphazard manner. The displaced families of the camp are currently staying with friends on the same land where the camp was located. They contacted the United Nations, which sent a protection team to record some information. However, they have not received a response as of Tuesday, September 19. The responsible officer informed them that they cannot rebuild their tents. A Lebanese man named Abu Abdullah, a prominent figure in the area, is intervening to secure permission for their return and the rebuilding of tents for housing.4 Information from interviews with displaced families and neighbors through fieldwork done by Public Works’ field worker in Beqaa region in September 2023.
As such, the official decision is being exploited and violated in practice in the Baalbek-Hermel region. This is accompanied by numerous human rights violations and violent treatment of the Syrian families residing in the region, in most of the camps and residential apartments. These violations include the demolition of tents, the bulldozing of property, the arbitrary eviction of families, and the forcible deportation of refugees. In addition, some men and young people are being arrested without considering or verifying their documentation, whether it is valid or not, and their UN refugee files are being seized. These evictions, arrests, and abusive practices, such as the confiscation of belongings including solar energy panels, televisions, and internet devices, are in violation of the ministry’s decision and are due to the blatant racism of some parties. In addition, some municipalities have imposed curfews, such as the municipality of Deir el-Ahmar, and decisions to collectively evict all refugees who do not have a sponsor’s residency permit or an UN file.
Mass Eviction by Landlord as a Direct Result of Discrimination Campaign
While Syrian refugees are facing housing threats from municipalities and military institutions, the widespread discriminatory campaign is contributing to the exacerbation of arbitrary evictions by Lebanese landowners.
For example, Syrian refugees in the Koura region, especially in Khan Bzizah, Ba’boush, and Derb Ashtar, are exposed to various forms of repression, intimidation, and racism. These abuses have intensified since the decision issued by the Ministry of Interior, leading to the eviction of about 10 Syrian families. Although these towns need Syrian labor to tend to the relatively small agricultural land that exists there, the treatment of the residents and the prevailing system discriminates against them and treats them unfairly.5Received as a case on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023 and further investigated through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in the region.
The majority of Syrians also live in dwellings that are not intended for habitation, next to agricultural areas. For example, it is often the case that families of more than four individuals live in a single room under deplorable conditions. Additionally, unjust measures have been implemented in these towns, such as a curfew after 6:00 pm. Moreover, violent and oppressive practices have been documented, such as harassment, beatings, and preventing children from playing in public squares and parks.6 Interviews done through fieldwork by Public Works fieldworkers in the region.
It is noteworthy that over 10 Syrian families in Ba’boush have been forcibly evicted since June 2023, including 8 families who reside in the same building, among them the family of Mr. M7 Letters are used as the affected person does not want his name to be disclosed publicly.
Mr. M fled to Lebanon with his wife and mother, who are also Syrian citizens. He settled in the town of Ba’boush in the Koura region about a year ago and began working there as a farmer. Mr. M has a congenital hemiplegia in his right leg and an injury in his left leg due to torture he was subjected to in Syrian prisons. His wife is deaf and mute, and his mother also suffers from a case of paralysis. He owned land in Syria that he had sold to flee by sea, but he was robbed and his money was taken. However, he was able to later flee to Lebanon legally, but he currently cannot fix his residence with the Lebanese General Security and follow up on his legal documents.8Information from case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.
In the town, Mr. M rented the first floor of a two-story building owned by the same landlord. However, it was not suitable for him because he uses a crutch to be able to move around. During his time living in Ba’boush, he and his family were subjected to racist and condescending treatment by the landlord and other residents of the neighborhood.9 Information from the case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.
Additionally, Mr. M was unable to pay rent for six months, owing $240 in total. This was due to the lack of job opportunities and assistance in the area. The only job available in Ba’boush is agriculture, and the land is already being used by 10 to 15 Syrian families. Manhal tried to contact many organizations and associations for help, but no one responded. He attempted suicide three times before moving to the town of Bsarma near Dhahret Al-Ayn on June 8, 2023.10 Information from the case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.
The entire neighborhood has been put at risk due to problems with rent, landlords and legal issues. Mr. M describes the suffering of the residents: “People were beaten up in the street. They were chased off their motorcycles and then beaten up at home. There is no municipality to protect the people. The authorities are working alone, and there are thugs in the region. People are afraid to speak out, as if the walls have ears, like in the days of the Syrian intelligence.” This forced all the families of the neighborhood to evacuate. After the evacuation, they either became displaced, smuggled to Idlib or Turkey, migrated by sea, or moved to live in less dangerous areas, as is the case of Mr. M.11 Information from the case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.
Numerous Violations of the Right to Housing and Human Rights
The examples provided confirm that the refugee crisis is worsening day by day. The state’s decisions and practices are exacerbating the crisis and widening the social rift and isolation of Syrian refugees. Government decisions and public declarations continually encourage treating Syrians as intruders and as security and demographic threats. They also hold Syrians responsible for the economic and financial crisis, in order to cover up the state’s inability to deal with the economic, social, and environmental crises that all of Lebanon’s residents, regardless of nationality, are suffering from due to the absence of fair and comprehensive public policies.
The fact that there are draft laws in the Lebanese parliament that are still under consideration, which would solidify the legal basis for such decisions and practices against refugees, is a cause for concern. These proposals include a bill “to prevent any form of apparent or disguised integration of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, as a result of the Syrian revolution,” submitted in July 2022, and a bill “to regulate temporary residency and deportation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” submitted in September 2023.
We see more and more manifestations of discrimination, racism, and violence, whether through unfair municipal decisions, the practices of some citizens, or even the security forces, towards Syrian refugees. These decisions and practices constitute a flagrant violation of human rights and violate the right of refugees to access safe and adequate housing, live in a healthy environment, and enjoy legal tenure without being subjected to arbitrary practices, threats, and forced evictions. These practices also diminish respect for the expression of cultural identity and social integration, and encourage the isolation of refugees and the widening of the social rift between them and the rest of the residents, in preparation for their criminalization and deportation.
- 1Information from interviews with custodian and neighbors through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in Muhammad Abu Ezz Al-Din Alley, branching off from Al-Ouzai Street in the Barbir area in May 2023.
- 2Information from interviews with neighbors and building owner through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in Muhammad Abu Ezz Al-Din Alley, branching off from Al-Ouzai Street in the Barbir area in May 2023.
- 3Information from interviews with neighbors and building owner through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in Muhammad Abu Ezz Al-Din Alley, branching off from Al-Ouzai Street in the Barbir area in May 2023.
- 4Information from interviews with displaced families and neighbors through fieldwork done by Public Works’ field worker in Beqaa region in September 2023.
- 5Received as a case on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023 and further investigated through fieldwork done by Public Works’ fieldworker in the region.
- 6Interviews done through fieldwork by Public Works fieldworkers in the region.
- 7Letters are used as the affected person does not want his name to be disclosed publicly.
- 8Information from case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.
- 9Information from the case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.
- 10Information from the case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.
- 11Information from the case log of the case received on the Housing Monitor hotline in May 2023.