When is Return Voluntary? Conditions of Asylum in Lebanon

Amy Keith and Nour Shawaf

Forced Migration Review 57, February 2018, pp. 62-63



Many refugees face physical, psychological or material ‘push factors’ arising from the lack of legal status. A key factor is refugees’ legal status in host countries. In Lebanon, 80 percent of Syrian refugees lack residency documents, which is a criminal offence, and increases the risk of arrest and detention. To avoid checkpoints, many refugees restrict their movements, reducing their ability to find work or access services. For those that find work, lack of documentation makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Reduced income makes it difficult for refugees to pay rent (increasing the risk of eviction) and meet other basic needs, and consequently many go into debt. There are two paths for refugees to acquire residency documents in Lebanon: (a) they can apply on the basis of a valid UNHCR registration, however in practice this still excludes the possibility of employment (even though the requirement to sign a pledge not to work was removed in mid-2016); or (b) they can obtain a pledge of responsibility (sponsorship) from a Lebanese citizen, however this exposes a refugee to high risk of exploitation (free labor, additional fees). The authors conclude that for returns to be truly voluntary, refugees need to be able to access a form of legal status that permits them to sustain themselves without requiring sponsorship.