“Summary of the Conditions of the Syrian Refugees amid the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)”
12 May 2020 – Beirut
The state of public mobilization and health emergency to counter the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Lebanon coincided with an unprecedented economic crisis, causing the return of the peaceful protest movement to the street, indicating deterioration in living conditions of the population. Focusing on the conditions of Syrian refugees in light of the emerging pandemic, the Lebanese government continues to restrict Syrian refugees by not taking any measures to prevent discriminatory policies adopted by some municipalities that have caused increased violations of the rights of refugees and allowed them to be exploited in the current circumstances.
Discriminatory actions by some Lebanese municipalities against Syrian refugees continue as part of the country’s response plan to fight COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the continued security spread in some areas and the intensification of checkpoints in the vicinity of the camps and at the entrances and exits of the municipal borders, leading to an increase in assault cases against Syrian refugees committed by municipal police and state security. Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) monitored several cases regarding these practices that exclusively discriminate against refugees, the most prominent of which are: the threat of forced eviction from their homes and/or the town they reside in, strengthening security checkpoints, the implementation of raids in the camps and physically assaulting refugees.
Notable cases recorded between 15 April and 7 May 2020:
ACHR monitored four cases of expulsion of Syrian refugees from their places of residence in different regions:
Tallouseh, Marjeyoun District: A local security checkpoint commissioned by the municipality, stopped a Syrian refugee, and banned him from entering the village which he had been living in for eight years. The landlord did not allow him to take his belongings from the house unless the rent for the past two months is paid.
It is worth mentioning that most Syrian refugees are unable to pay housing rent due to the restrictions imposed on them by the Lebanese government to fight the pandemic.
Al Msherfeh, Baalbek District: A local checkpoint intercepted a Syrian refugee heading to his place of residence in the town of Msherfeh (adjacent to the municipality of Deir al Ahmar). He was banned from entering the town and beaten by the municipal police. He then returned to the checkpoint with his brother to inquire about the incident, but were insulted and beaten again by the police leading to a clash. The municipality then decided to expel them from the town and from the vicinity of the municipalities of Deir al Ahmar and its adjacent towns in the wake of this incident, but the deportation was not implemented because of the intervention of the Lebanese sponsor of the refugee.
Aalman – Saida District: The municipal police forced evicted a family of Syrian refugees after a resident of the area intercepted the path of a family member on his way to buy basic goods for the family. The person who intercepted the refugee’s path justified his behavior on the pretext of the curfew, knowing that the refugee had left his home during the afternoon, that is, during the allowed hours during the curfew. Later, the refugee was severely abused and beaten by the municipal police.
Ghazze municipality, Western Bekaa: The municipality decided to close down and demolish the ‘011’ refugees camp, where 60 Syrian families live there. This decision of closing down the camp came after a fight between the residents of the area and the residents of the camp, where a crossfire happened, causing many injuries on both sides. However, Ministry of Interior and Municipalities rejected the municipality’s decision to close down the camp, where the municipality after that mediated and resolve the problem between the two parties.
Qob Elias, Zahle District: The Lebaness army intelligence and the municipal police carried out a raid on a Syrian refugee’s camp in Qob Elias during which three refugees were severely beaten and mistreated for being outside the camp during the raid.
ACHR has recorded four cases of forced evictions of Syrian refugees by their landlords in several Lebanese areas amidst the deteriorating economic conditions and the inability to secure basic needs due to the disruption of movement and work.
Forced evictions of Syrian refugees may expose them to the risks of family separation and other serious violations, noting that people who have been expelled have temporarily taken refuge with some friends or relatives, which may also expose them to risks due to some municipalitiespreventing Syrian refugees from receiving visitors in their areas of residence.
It should be noted that the intensification of checkpoints and widespread of security forces in many areas increase fear and anxiety among Syrian refugees from arbitrary arrest and measures against them, such as seizure of their official papers.
This also contributes to further deterioration of their economic conditions, given that the majority of Syrian refugees depend on daily work to meet the basic needs of their families, and a large proportion of them work in agricultural lands where work is still permitted during quarantine. Noting that many refugees would have been able to continue working during these circumstances if it weren’t for checkpoints and widespread security that spread fear among them and prevent them from accessing their work even in times where municipalities allowed residents to work.
ACHR calls on the local and governmental authorities to ensure the protection of Syrian refugees by issuing decisions and circulars to protect them, preventing decisions their eviction from their homes and expulsion from towns especially amid these difficult health, economic and living conditions that increase psychological stress among refugees, which in turn could increase suffocation and social tension. Thus, we ask for the rejection of any contrary decision.
ACHR deplores the actions of the municipal police and state security members, abuse of power and use of excessive and illegal force. We stress on their duty of ensuring the protection of all residents in Lebanon, including Syrian refugees. ACHR urges for an immediate investigation and the implementation of necessary measures against the members who abused their authority against Syrian refugees.
In addition, we condemn the continuation of the discrimination policy against Syrian refugees, most notably, the threat of deportation and expulsion by municipalities. We stress on the Lebanese authorities’ adherence to the Lebanese constitution and international laws that preserve the freedom of movement and prohibit the restriction of this right based on race or nationality, even during a state of emergency.