Lost in Lebanon – film screening and debate during the Global Migration Film Festival

NEWS RELEASES – On Tuesday 5th of December, the International Centre for Peace and Human Rights (CIPADH) attended the Global Migration Film Festival at the Graduate Institute, for the screening of the movie “Lost in Lebanon”, which was followed by a debate with a member from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Georgia and Sophia Scott, the sisters who produced the movie. Another article was written by CIPADH in October, with general information concerning Syrian refugees in Lebanon. This article will explain the content of the movie before examining the important questions raised concerning the new challenges that these refugees are facing today. 


The Global Migration Film Festival screened this movie because it primarily concerns refugees, a crucial part of IOM’s work. They are considered people in need of particular protection.


The movie traces the lives of four very different Syrian refugees living in several regions of Lebanon. Some of the characters are dealing with refugee camps organisation (one being at the border with Syria and the other in Beirut) and others are students and young employees attempting to rebuild their lives in a new country. The film explains their daily struggles both dealing with basic needs as well as with the Lebanese authorities.

Many refugees encounter some of the same problems, the main one concerning residency papers. The documentary explains that national authorities, after opening their doors in the outset of the Syrian conflict, started applying border restrictions in 2015, additionally from regulating the renewal process of the residency papers acquired by Syrian refugees already present on Lebanese territory. The main reason for these restrictions lies in the fact that, even though Lebanon is a neighbouring country with an eagerness to help, it is both too small and possesses a government too unstable to allow overwhelming numbers of refugees into their territory. Indeed, over 1.5 million  Syrians are presently living in the country, out of a total Lebanese population of 4 million. Thus, Syrians have recently been facing an aggravated dilemma: they are unable to return to their country because they would “either become a victim or a killer”, are legally prevented from staying in Lebanon because of their residency documents’ upcoming expiry dates, and are incapable of leaving their host country without facing other important risks and restrictions. The resettlement programs have not been very successful for most: they permitted only 5000 refugees out of 1.5 million to leave the country. Accordingly, many Syrians find themselves illegally stranded in a place that is not completely willing to welcome them anymore. Furthermore, 72% of Syrian children born in Lebanon did not receive  a birth certificate, and thus endure a risk of becoming stateless.

Another main problem lies in the fact that a number of Syrian youths do not have access to education. The movie testimonies agree that education is a key aspect to ensuring a peaceful future in Syria. . Today, it is established that every Syrian has experienced shock and trauma, and it is likely that many will as a result grow violent in the future if they don’t receive basic education. .  


During the debate, the producers explained that this film was partly made in order to raise large-scale awareness about the acute situation endured by Syrian refugees, and to allow each and every one watching to conduct research and offer help in their own way. The take-away idea seems to be that by collectively pressuring the governments to change policies, we would have a better chance of improving the situation. Another option is to adopt small scales changes, such as making refugees feel at home and finding shared values (education, for example, is a common one, as countless Syrians are aspiring to studying) instead of letting fear dictate our behaviours, which would otherwise encourage extremism.

The IOM representative explained, after several questions were posed on the next large scale steps planned by international organisations to finally improve the situation, that a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in the making, to resettle Syrian refugees. They are also looking to promote safe migration in order to avoid the deaths and assassinations of individuals fleeing and entering other countries. The problem with their policies and the reason the situation is not improving resides in the unwillingness of governments to act. The IOM and UNHCR are ready to provide assistance at any moment, but they need the approbation and collaboration from concerned states beforehand.


As a conclusion, this film and the following debate clearly outline Syrian refugees’ precarious situation of illegal confinement in a country that has become increasingly unwelcoming, coupled with the international community’s impotence resulting from its dependence on states that are unwilling and/or unable to offer solutions. In light of all these factors, what will be the future of the “biggest humanitarian catastrophe since World War 2”?


By Taline Bodart