Refugees and hosts suffer due to ‘illegal’ living, shows new research

3 May 2018

Refugees and hosts suffer due to ‘illegal’ living, shows new research Syrian refugees prevented legal residency by complex bureaucracy and prohibitive costs are struggling in poor, makeshift housing not officially recognised by the Lebanese authorities. This ‘illegal’ living is taking its toll on both Syrian refugees and the local Lebanese communities living alongside them, finds new research by the Institute of Development Studies, ACTED Lebanon and Impact Initiatives, with support from independent local and University of Sussex based academic advisors. 

As part of the research a local group of Syrian and Lebanese women living in inner-city Beirut, who had joined forces to help one another, produced a short film revealing their day to day realities and what they believe needs to change. Through face-to-face interviews and a systematic literature review, the study analysed how the ways in which refugees are hosted in cities of Lebanon and Jordan affects the wellbeing of refugee and host communities and found frustrations on both sides. 

Manaal, a Syrian refugee living in Beirut, who features in the short-film, says: "I arrived [in Lebanon] when the war started. I have been here for six years. There’s a problem especially after immigration with sponsorship [was introduced].  ...we don’t have a Lebanese sponsor and can’t afford $600 for the papers. 

Dr Dolf te Lintelo, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and lead researcher on the project, said: "Most people assume refugees are living in camps, but not in Lebanon. More aid and investment should be urgently directed towards improving the informal urban settlements where mixed communities (Syrian refugees, Palestinians and Lebanese communities) are trying their best under tremendously strained circumstances". 

"As displacement is highly likely to endure, a move from humanitarian to developmental interventions is needed. Vitally needed is improvements to basic services so that everyone has access to water, sanitation, waste collection and electricity. These are likely to benefit both poor Lebanese as well as displaced groups.

"With a ‘no refugee camp’ policy adopted by the Lebanese government, many refugees end up living in overcrowded and poorly resourced inner-city and urban fringe areas. These informal urban settlements have absorbed more and more people over time and are characterised by sprawling concrete structures, connected by makeshift electricity cables crisscrossing between narrow streets. High rents and forced evictions are common. 

As these settlements are deemed illegal by Lebanese authorities, essential utilities such electric are not provided. Instead, residents find ways to set these up without permission, though often in a hazardous and unreliable manner.  

The findings found similar, but distinct experiences in Jordan, who also host significant numbers of refugees. While 20 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan reside in camps, the majority live elsewhere including in urban areas. Syrian refugees in Jordan are also experiencing high levels of insecurity, often due to challenges with legal status documentation. 

In order to counter this, the report recommends NGOs, the UN, and the Government of Jordan should continue to support the regularisation of the status of all Syrians in Jordan, and ensure that they have access to adequate aid and services.

Similarly in Lebanon, more priority should be given by NGOs or humanitarian workers to help refugees navigate the often changing and complex ways to obtain legal documentation. It also highlights that informal urban settlements include Syrian refugees, Palestinian refugees and Lebanese people living in poverty all have needs for support and that this should be given more equitably, dependent on their need, rather than their nationality.