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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)
Syrian refugees in Lebanon

between hammer and anvil

The simplest of things – registering a birth or obtaining legal residency – represents an administrative imbroglio for most Syrian refugees in Lebanon. As a result, important life events – birth, marriage, death – go unregistered and 80% of refugees have no legal residency.

This creates barriers to access jobs and basic services such as education and healthcare. It also leaves refugees vulnerable to exploitation, eviction and deportation. The EU works with humanitarian partners to provide refugees with information, counselling, and legal assistance.

The last time Rami felt joy was a couple of months ago. He danced with his daughters Lamar and Naya after learning that, finally, after 7 years in Lebanon, he would start receiving cash assistance.

He has no idea why it took so long, but baby Salwa, the latest addition to the family, might be the reason. She was officially registered, and the UN refugee agency added her to the records of their family composition.

A ‘legal clinic’ run by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) with EU funding in Lebanon’s third-largest city, Saida, is where counsellors help refugees like Rami.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon, between hammer and anvil 01
European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)

© European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)

They help peel away the layers of bureaucracy that stand between refugees and more dignified life. Crucially, with many refugees now destitute in the wake of Lebanon’s economic free fall, services are free of charge.

‘Many refugees are “stuck” in a worsening climate. We see an increase in the threat of eviction of already vulnerable people who are blamed for just being here and for the unemployment,’ says NRC Project Manager, Sarah Ghanem. ‘There are reports of people that have gone back to Syria, only to return to Lebanon because the situation is even worse there.’

Syrian refugees in Lebanon, between hammer and anvil 02
20% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in informal tented settlements.
European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)

20% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in informal tented settlements.
© European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)

The clinic is a hive of activity. Information group sessions and one-on-one consultations take place simultaneously as a local sheikh pronounces and formalises marriages in quick succession.

Counsellors here helped Rami and his wife Amar to certify their marriage, a precondition for registering the birth of their 3 girls. In 2020, only 28% of refugees in Lebanon have been able to register the birth of their children.

Life after COVID-19 and the blast

For many, the coronavirus pandemic and Beirut port blast were the last straw, turning a bad situation into a disastrous one. Tensions are mounting as Lebanon sinks deeper into crisis.

These past two years, every trip to the supermarket spells trouble, they tell us: you took everything, our groceries, our jobs.


They try to avoid bumping into their landlord since he threatened to put them out on the street.

A back problem has incapacitated Rami, who would otherwise try to find work as a painter. They owe the landlord several months’ rent.

The stark reality is that 9 out of 10 Syrian refugees have fallen into extreme poverty and are accumulating debt, while the number of Lebanese living under the poverty line has also more than doubled.

The cataclysmic port explosion in Beirut drove many people from their homes. It left left them mourning loved ones, or injured, or jobless. Sometimes all of the above.

Essa and Sabah are Syrian refugees from Aleppo who live with their children in the fertile Bekaa valley, just 10 km from the Syrian border. They benefit from EU-funded cash assistance through the UN Refugee Agency and the World Food Programme.

As outreach volunteers in the informal tented settlement, they have never been busier. Essa works in child protection. She has seen an increase in child marriages. And the demand for children as cheap farm hands remains constant in a region often described as the breadbasket of Lebanon. Too many reasons that keep children from getting an education.

‘After the explosion, many refugees and even Lebanese came to the Bekaa,’ Essa says. ‘They were homeless as rents in Beirut became too high. One family stayed with us for a while. The father was a watchman close to the port.’

Syrian refugees in Lebanon, between hammer and anvil 03
Abdo and Essa are getting by during Lebanon’s economic crisis thanks to cash assistance.
European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)

Abdo and Essa are getting by during Lebanon’s economic crisis thanks to cash assistance.
© European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)

Other cash beneficiaries like Abdo and Eida have not eaten meat in 2 months. The cash assistance is buying them less than before, with prices continuously on the rise.

The children are their number one concern, so they are sad that their 14-year-old son dropped out of school. ‘There is no future for our children here and not in Syria either,’ says Abdo, reflecting on the crisis in his home country, now in its 11th year.

Like Essa, he has heard about people returning to Syria or paying smugglers to get them to Turkey or via Libya onto boats. ‘Our home in Syria has been destroyed. How would the family survive?’

They are also against undertaking anything illegal. The only way Eida wants to leave is the legal way –together, as a family, with all their relatives.

Return is not possible, and resettlement to another country remains a far-fetched dream. Refugees in Lebanon will likely continue to need our solidarity and rely on the assistance of the EU and other donors for the unforeseeable future.

Story by Anouk Delafortrie, Regional Information Officer for Middle East, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
Main picture: Rami and Amar were able to register their 3 daughters Lamar, Naya, Salma at birth thanks to EU-funded legal support. © European Union, 2021 (photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)
Publication date: 26/11/2021