Syrians refugees in Lebanon: a particularly vulnerable population

NEWS - Lebanon hosts more than 1,2 million refugees who fled the conflict in Syria. Nowadays, one of five people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Unfortunately, many amongst them find themselves in a dire situation as their vulnerability make them prime targets of diverse abuses and forced labor.


Lebanon, from a policy of “open door” to a strict regulation

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Lebanon has took the lead in hosting refugees by adopting a real “open door” policy, as the country shares more than just borders with Syria but also economic, social and historic connections.
However, as the crisis showed no sign of stopping anytime soon but was only exacerbated with time, the toll of Syrian refugees in Lebanon began to be more and more important. As a consequence, the country started taking measures for reducing access for refugees since 2013.

 In May 2015, they indicated to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that were no longer willing to register new refugees from Syria. Arrivals have been limited by a sponsorship system which also reinforce the conditions for renewal of residency. Today, Syrian refugees have thus more difficulties going to and staying in Lebanon – which puts them in an even more vulnerable position than they already had. 
Indeed, and despite their initial welcoming stance, Lebanon has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which means that they do not have, even in terms of international law, to provide a protection status to refugees. 


Refugees: forced labor and human trafficking

Their vulnerability express itself in many different ways, but one of the more persistent and pervasive one is the growing forced labor which impact a vast amount of refugees. As Lebanon is not a member of the 1951 Convention, Refugees in Lebanon can hardly legally work.

At the same time however, conditions for renewing their residency rights have become harsher, and the toll of millions of refugees in the country has contributed to economic difficulties and a rise of prices. As a result, refugees encounter more and more trouble covering their most basic needs while being barely protected. All these factors put together lead Syrian refugees to be a group particularly vulnerable to exploitation, forced labor, slavery and trafficking.  Human trafficking has become such an issue in the country that the U.S State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report has put Lebanon on its watchlist.


Child labor remains a major issue

Forced labor is also a major issue for Syrian children, who are in a situation of intersectionality as vulnerabilities add up to one another: both refugees and children are particularly risk-prone categories. NGOs estimate that between 60 and 70% of Syrian children in Lebanon are working: girls are often domestic workers or provide garlic to restaurants, boys in markets and factories. Both are also commonly seen working in the streets, begging or selling flowers.
Children in camps are most concerned by agriculture work, in which conditions are notoriously difficult. According to a Syrian male refugee’s testimony in the report from Freedom Fund, “their conditions are very bad – 100% of children in the camps have to work in agriculture, picking potatoes or whatever the vegetable for that season is”. 

The coordinators of refugee camps, known as Shawish, are also known to be somtimes responsible for child labor. Indeed, the coordinator, if asked by a local farmer for labourers, can choose anyone over eight years old in the camp to provide this working force – and parents often don’t have the means to oppose this decision. Furthermore, the Shawish can also take a part of the money earned by the child for his/her working.


250,000 Syrians children refugees are in need of education

Human Rights Watch has recently issued a report focused on the problem of education for Syrian children. Despite Syrian children being allowed to enroll in schools for free and Lebanon enlarging school capacities by opening “shifts” for children refugees, more than 250,000 of them have still no access to education.

As we have seen, lack of resources of families – 70% of Syrian families being under the line of poverty- and the necessity for children to work is one major factor of this – a fact not facilitated by the harsh regulations put into place by the government concerning refugees status. Difficulties of accessing schools have to be taken into account, even more now than freedom of circulation is restricted for refugees.
Even when children are enrolled, a fair amount of them drop out: bullying, discriminations, sometimes condoned by the school personnel, are amongst some of the reasons for abandonment.


If Lebanon has made efforts, particularly in trying to open access to education for refugee children, their means are also limited by the economic tool refugees represent on the country. As the report from Human Rights Watch states, Lebanon is in need of a more important international economic support, which could particularly serve to finance more schools and classrooms, though underlying issues preventing children from staying in class would also have to be dealt with.


Léa Guinet, Coordinator at Cipadh



Human Rights Watch, "Lebanon: 250,000 Syrian children out of school", 19 july 2016. Available at: 

Paolo Verme & co, "The Welfare of Syrian refugees, evidence from Jordan and Lebanon", UNHCR and World Bank Group, 2016. Available at: 

The Freedom Fund report, "Struggling to survive: Slavery and Exploitation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon", 2016, available at: