Republic of Lebanon: Refugee women from Syria face heightened risk of exploitation and sexual harassment

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6 Feb 2016
[International Secretariat]
Region: Republic of Lebanon
Topic: Refugees and Migrants

Shortfalls in international assistance and discriminatory policies imposed by the Lebanese authorities are creating conditions that facilitate the exploitation and abuse of women refugees in Lebanon.

Refugee women from Syria uprooted and unprotected in Lebanon, highlights how the Lebanese government’s refusal to renew residency permits for refugees and a shortage of international funding, leaves refugee women in a precarious position, and puts them at risk of exploitation by people in positions of power including landlords, employers and even the police.

In 2015, Lebanon stopped the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) from registering any more Syrian refugees and introduced new regulations making it difficult for refugees to renew their residency status. Without proper legal status they face arbitrary arrest, detention and even deportation leaving many afraid to report abuse to police.

“The majority of refugees from Syria in Lebanon – are struggling to survive in often desperate conditions. They face widespread discrimination and major obstacles in obtaining food, housing or a job. For women refugees surviving in such circumstances can often be even more difficult, with many – particularly women who are the heads of their households – at increased risk of harassment, exploitation and abuse at work and in the streets,” said Kathryn Ramsay.

Many refugee women said they struggle to meet the high cost of living in Lebanon and to afford food or rent which has exposed them to greater risk of exploitation. Some said that they received inappropriate sexual advances from men or offers of financial or other assistance in exchange for sex.

Finding enough money to pay for accommodation is another significant challenge. At least 58% or Syrian refugees live in rented apartments or houses, others live in dilapidated buildings and informal settlements.  Yet many women said they were unable to afford the exorbitant rents and found themselves in squalid accommodation.

Burdensome bureaucratic procedures and high costs for refugees to renew their residence permits, introduced by the Lebanese government in January 2015, have prevented many refugees from being able to renew their residency permits.  Without a valid residence permit, refugees from Syria often fear arrest and fail to report abuse to the police.

The majority of refugee women who spoke to Amnesty International said the lack of a residence permit stopped them from reporting a crime to the Lebanese authorities.

Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other country in the world and the international community has failed to support the country, however this is no justification for not offering protection to refugees from exploitation and abuse.

The lack of international funding and support for refugees in Lebanon is a direct factor contributing to the poverty and precarious circumstances of refugee women which has exposed them to greater risks.

UNHCR has identified at least 10% of the Syria refugee population in host countries, the equivalent of 450,000, as vulnerable and in urgent need of resettlement in another country outside the region.  UNHCR considers women and girls at risk as among those who meet the criteria of “most vulnerable” refugees.

Amnesty International is calling on the international community to increase the number of resettlement places and other safe routes out of the region offered to refugees from Syria.

2 February 2016

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