Lebanon says UN agency to share data on Syrian refugees

Status of people who fled the civil war is one of the country's most sensitive issues

A makeshift camp in Lebanon's Akkar province. Syrian refugees make up a quarter of the country's population. AFP
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Lebanon has reached an agreement with the UN refugee agency for the handover of data on Syrian refugees in the country.

The deal was announced by caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib after a meeting with Lance Bartholomeusz, the UNHCR's general counsel and head of legal affairs, in Beirut.

“Lebanon considers the handing over of data a sovereign right, similar to that of other countries, to be familiar with the identity of the people on their territories,” said Mr Bou Habib.

He said the agreement came “after a long process of negotiations that began a year ago”, following a meeting with UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.

About 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon have registered with UNHCR, but the actual number is believed to be much higher – in the region of 1.5 million.

Around 90 per cent of them live in extreme poverty.

“Building on our long-standing collaboration, we have reached an agreement,” Mr Bartholomeusz said in statement shared with The National.

“This agreement is in accordance with global data protection standards.

“The Lebanese government committed not to use any data shared for purposes contrary to international law and reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of non-refoulement and its obligations under international and domestic law.

“Further discussion will follow on implementation modalities. [The] UNHCR remains committed to continue strong co-operation with Lebanon as we move forward.”

The UNHCR warned last month that the number of Syrians holding legal residency in Lebanon had fallen, “hampering their access to basic services and civil documentation”.

Few things in the Middle East country are as sensitive as the status of Syrian refugees, who make up about a quarter of the population of the country and live in typically grim conditions.

Funding shortages also mean that aid to Syrians has been cut.

The government has ratcheted up the rhetoric against them and increased the number of deportations.

The deal comes at a time when Lebanon is struggling with a devastating economic crisis that first became apparent in 2019 and has plunged much of the country's population into poverty.

Lebanese officials argue that it is unfair for their country to support so many refugees, given the problems it is facing.

They also claim that many parts of Syria are safe and stable now after 12 years of war.

Rights groups say Syrian refugees are at a high risk of persecution if they are returned to Syria.

Updated: August 29, 2023, 3:23 PM