Lebanese Municipalities Evict Refugees

Over the past two years, United Nations officials have identified 3,664 evictions of Syrian refugees from their homes in Lebanon by local municipalities. As well, there have been over 10,000 evictions for failure to pay rent and other landlord disputes. According to Human Rights Watch, an additional 42,000 refugees are still at risk of eviction. The measures taken by Lebanese municipalities have directly targeted Syrian nationals, showing that the central government has thus far failed to protect refugees’ rights as municipalities indiscriminately remove individuals from their homes, without due processes or reasoning.

As a result of the evictions, many refugees have lost income and property. It has also become more difficult for children to attain an education, with some children forced to miss months of school or even drop out. According to several reports by Syrians who were evicted, the authorities removed them from their homes violently without offering an opportunity for the refugees to challenge the dislodgement or engage in any legal procedure based on international standards.

Increasingly though, it is evident that the mass evictions of Syrian refugees are not part of an organized national plan. Rather, they are an ad hoc response by 13 individual municipalities. All but two of these are predominantly Christian, while all Syrian refugees interviewed by Human Rights watch were Muslim. Most of the refugees interviewed claimed that they identified a link between the evictions and their religious identity. However, this ad hoc reasoning seems like a response to the political pressures in Lebanon as the country nears the first parliamentary elections since the crisis in Syria first began. Some politicians, in response to population demands, have called for Syrians to return to Syria, which is simply not an option at this time.

Moreover, many Lebanese politicians are attributing social and economic problems in the country to the influx of Syrian refugees. While this may be true, particularly in the case of the state of the economy, the solution of evicting refugees and returning them to Syria is not viable. Lebanon needs more international support to support their large refugee population. According to the president of the country, they can no longer cope with the social and financial costs of the refugee crisis. In 2017, the United Nations appealed for US$2.035 billion of international aid to be injected into Lebanon to meet humanitarian assistance needs. However, only 54 percent was funded despite the fact that they presently host the largest number of refugees in the world. Also, as of December 2017, Lebanon hosts roughly 175,000 Palestinian refugees, meaning that one in five individuals in Lebanon are refugees.

While the goal of municipalities is driven by a desire to better social and economic conditions, those that expel Syrian refugees could actually be hurting the economy further as many apartments are now empty, harming the income of the landlords. Also, many evicted refugees, some of whom work for local municipalities, must leave their jobs which could lead to a gap in the labour market without workers to perform low-wage, manual labour.

Fundamentally, the Lebanese government must control all municipalities to ensure that evictions are just and that the adequate legal processes are followed. Furthermore, international aid must increase to support Lebanon in their efforts to take in refugees. Without it, Lebanon will face social and economic difficulties which could perpetuate extremist rationale, specifically targeting Syrian nationals. This will in turn  lead to an exacerbation of conflict among refugees, the Lebanese government, and neighbours.