Summary of the Conditions of the Syrian Refugees amid the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)
July 16, 2020 – Beirut
On July 2, 2020, the Lebanese government announced the extension of the general mobilization status to August 2, 2020. As of July 7, there had been 1,907 cases of COVID-19, approximately 117 positive cases and one death among Syrian refugees, all of whom were living outside refugee camps in various areas of Lebanon.
Due to the deteriorating economic conditions in Lebanon, the sharp fluctuations in the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound against the U.S. dollar which led to a dramatic rise in prices and a decrease in the value of salaries for employees, in addition to the failure of the Lebanese government to obtain a loan from the International Monetary Fund, and in the wake of these circumstances, the situation of Syrian refugees has substantially worsened on the economic and security levels. We had published in the past months, summaries on the situation of refugees in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis along with recommendations made to the Lebanese government, which has not responded to any of them. The direct pressures on Syrian refugees continue to increase, and the crackdown on fundamental rights and public freedoms is tightening.
Upon announcing the state of general mobilization in Lebanon, many Syrian refugees have lost their jobs; and their living, economic, social and psychological conditions have deteriorated. Most them were dependent on seasonal or daily work that had ceased/decreased due to the concurrence of the pandemic and the economic crisis; two factors that cannot be de-associated from each other. According to a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon, 61% of Syrian refugee women and 46% of Syrian refugee men have lost their jobs since mid-March this year, and 7% of Syrian families send their children to work as a result of the loss of their work.
Despite their inability to meet basic needs due to lack of financial resources and high food prices, as of May 18, nearly 75% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are borrowing from their relatives to meet their needs, while 78% of Syrian families have difficulty buying food.Consequently, labour losses and price increases result in a marked increase in individual and collective evictions or the threat of eviction from their own homes, whether inside or outside camps. All of these conditions have also placed great pressure on refugees, prompting large numbers of them to return to Syria without considering the closure of the border between the two countries, leading them to stay for nearly five days to couple of weeks under harsh conditions between the Lebanese-Syrian borders, given the denial of entrance by Syrian authorities to any arrivals from Lebanon, fearing the increased spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Highlights of Incidents Documented by ACHR since May 15, 2020
Individual Forced Eviction cases or Threats of Eviction:
Refugees face significant difficulty in paying rent which has resulted in an obvious increase in forced evictions and/or the threat of forced evictions during recent weeks. ACHR has recorded more than 23 cases since 15 May 2020, all as a result of the inability of refugees to pay rent for the house or land (for those living camps).
Forced Evictions of Camps or Threat of Eviction:
Evictions and/or threats of eviction were not limited to individual cases, as many Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon were threatened with eviction or some families were evicted from them. ACHR documented two camp evictions and three threats of camp eviction. Below are cases documented by ACHR:
Baalbek, Baalbek district: An old school building in Baalbek used to house 28 Syrian families and was under the supervision of religious endowments in Baalbek. Families were notified to evacuate the building by June 14, 2020. After the expiration of this deadline, the building was evacuated, and each family was compensated for 300,000 Lebanese pounds. Some families rented another place of residence, except they are threatened with eviction again due to their inability to pay rent.
Saadnayel, Zahle district: Al-Masri camp (No. 072), which accommodated 30 families, was evacuated due to the renters inability to pay rent considering its increased value, and their inability to find any other alternatives given the difficulty in obtaining approval from the army intelligence and municipalities.
Syrian Refugees Stranded on The Lebanese – Syrian Border
Due to all the consequences of the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, ACHR has monitored several cases of Syrian refugees stuck between the Lebanese and Syrian borders, neither allowed entry to Syria, nor allowed to return to Lebanon.
On May 28, 2020, ACHR documented a group of Syrian refugees, including around 100 children and 60 women, three kilometers from Al-Masnaa’ border stranded for at least 20 days. Some of them were admitted entrance to Syria on May 29, while the rest were allowed to enter the next day on May 30, after the Syrian authorities registered their names and investigated their security conditions while they were waiting for one of the Syrian or Lebanese sides to re-receive them. Except for a woman and her toddler who remained stranded at the border for not having official documents. UNHCR was informed the same day about her case, and we have since lost contact with her and until now we do not know her fate or that of her child.
In addition, some were insulted and severely beaten. On May 28, ACHR documented beating of some refugees stuck at the border by Syrian border guards after they tried to approach the border. The guards also threatened to shoot at those who were approaching the checkpoint. On the other hand, a Syrian woman on the verge of giving birth was allowed to enter Syria. Unfortunately, ACHR team was informed by several sources at the border, after losing direct contact with her, that the woman had died during labour due to medical negligence when she was in need to be admitted to the hospital, however, the team has not been able to verify this information.
On June 11, 2020, ACHR documented another group at Al-Masnaa’ border, which remained for about 10 days amid absence of any party to assist them with their health conditions or to provide them with any type of assistance. The following day, June 12, the Syrian authorities registered the names of those present in preparation for their entry.
Refugees stranded at the border have endured very poor conditions, the weather had been harsh for long periods, and with no party following-up on their case, since UNHCR lacks jurisdiction in the no-man’s land. There were pregnant women and minors with lack of food, water and medicine and unable to meet their basic needs, which made them vulnerable to exploitation by vendors on the border selling food for double the prices compared to its original price inside Lebanon.
The Access Center for human Rights was able to gather essential information through direct contact with some people on the border and found that their motives for returning to Syria were numerous. The main factor is the economic situation, which has worsened with the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the quarantine measures adopted by the Lebanese government to combat its spread.
All refugees whom ACHR documented violations against reported that they suffered from a high level of insecurity due to the loss of their jobs, lack of legal residency papers, and inability to pay rent and living expenses, as some were evicted from their homes for their inability to pay their rent. Most expressed fears and psychological pressures in accordance with the discriminatory actions taken by some municipalities against Syrian refugees and the increasing discriminatory views towards them in some areas by the Lebanese community. While others expressed frustration that UNHCR had not responded to their requests for assistance despite repeated attempts to contact them. These challenges accumulated until they reached the view that returning to Syria is their only option and hope to restore their dignity.