BEIRUT: Syrian refugee teenagers should have improved access to important services such as education thanks to a recent regulation issued recently by General Security. Under the terms of the regulation, any Syrian refugee child who turned 15-18 years old after entering Lebanon and who does not have a passport or national identity card will be granted temporary residency if they present a Syrian individual status record, according to a statement released by General Security.
“This is a positive and much needed step to ensure that Syrian children in Lebanon can attend school safely and without risking arrest for lack of legal status,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Children should not be forced into legal limbo simply because they didn’t have certain documents when fleeing to Lebanon.”
The issue of residency is problematic for most Syrian refugee children. A 2018 Norwegian Refugee Council survey of Syrian children aged 15-18 found that 90 percent lacked legal residency.
“Humanitarian organizations, Human Rights Watch [and] civil society groups have for a long time been calling on the Lebanese government to ease the residency restrictions that have caused so much pain for certain families who don’t have legal status in the country,” Bassam Khawaja, Lebanon researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Star.
Khawaja noted that the new regulation should mean easier access to education for refugee children.
“Legal residency is the single biggest factor influencing whether children are able to stay in school or not after age 15. Because there are fewer secondary schools, it usually means the distance between them is larger, [and] there’s a higher probability of checkpoints on the way,” he said. The risk of being detained at a checkpoint, according to Khawaja, can discourage refugees without residency documents from making the journey to school.
“I’m very happy about this,” Ammar Abbas, a 24-year-old Syrian refugee living in a camp in Bar Elias, said of the recent development.
Abbas said he had heard of the regulation from a friend, adding that often it was difficult to access information about such developments, whether from General Security or online.
Abbas and his younger brother have been in Lebanon for five years.
“Because of the war and the bad conditions in Syria, we couldn’t get his ID. He doesn’t have one, we couldn’t get one, and the one he had expired four years ago,” Abbas said.
“We couldn’t renew his passport, but now he can get a residency with his individual status record.”
“Far more [child refugees] have this individual status record than, for example, have passports or Syrian national IDs,” Khawaja said.
Nevertheless, the HRW researcher is concerned that there are still significant hurdles for many refugees who have not been able to obtain legal status in Lebanon for technical reasons.
“This regulation requires that the [individual status] record has been issued within the last two years and that doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
He noted that it is “highly likely” that most of the individual status records held by Syrian refugee children are more than two years old.
“In those cases, to be able to take advantage of this they would have to go back to Syria or to the embassy here to get a new individual status record, and if they’re going to do that they could just as well get a passport or a national ID,” Khawaja said.
“The whole issue has been that Syrians are afraid of going to the embassy, they’re afraid of going back to Syria, they’re afraid of persecution,” he added.
Equally, many Syrian refugees who are now 19 or older are ineligible to apply for temporary residency, despite having faced the same issues in obtaining residency earlier in life.
“We’re calling on General Security and the Lebanese government to lift that age bar so anyone who turned 15 while in Lebanon or is deprived of residency as a result of not having the right documents should now be able to use this new regulation, whether or not they’re still under the age of 18,” Khawaja said.
A General Security spokesperson said he could not comment on the regulation when reached by The Daily Star. – Additional reporting by Timour Azhari