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Summary

Lebanon is not a party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 or its 1967 Protocol.  It has not adopted any domestic legislation specifically addressing the status of refugees.  Refugee status is at present determined mainly by the provisions of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Lebanon and the UNHCR.

I.  General Background

Lebanon has a large number of refugees.  In a report issued by the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission in October 2015, it was estimated that there were about 1.1 million Syrians, 295,000 Palestinians, and 17,000 Iraqis in Lebanon,[1] while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated the number of Syrian refugees alone to be 1,835,840 in 2015.[2]  

The legal status of refugees in Lebanon lacks certainty.  The existing legal instruments dealing with this issue have been criticized as inadequate and insufficient.  A 2010 report by the UNHCR states that “[r]efugees enjoy few, if any, legal rights in Lebanon.”[3]

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II.  Constitutional Provisions

Section B of the preamble of the Lebanese Constitution provides the following:

Lebanon is … a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Government shall embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.[4]

It could be argued that this provision requires, among other things, that the government enact comprehensive legislation related to refugees.  However, no such legislation exists.  Furthermore, Lebanon has not signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 or its 1967 Protocol.

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III.  Domestic Legislation

The domestic legislation that governs refugees in Lebanon is essentially the Law Regulating the Entry and Stay of Foreigners in Lebanon and their Exit from the Country, which was enacted in 1962 (1962 Law)..[5]  The relevant provisions of this law are articles 26, 31, and 32.

Article 26 stipulates that:

Any foreigners who is subject of pursuit or has been convicted for a political crime by a non-Lebanese authority or whose life or freedom is threatened because of political considerations may ask for political asylum.

Article 31 stipulates that:

If a decision to expel a political refugee has been made it is not permissible to deport such refugee to the territory of a state where his life or freedom are not secured.

Pursuant to article 32 foreigners who enter Lebanon illegally can be imprisoned for one month to 3 years and/or fined.

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IV.  Memorandum of Understanding between Lebanon and the UNHCR

As a result of the “absence of a national refugee law,” a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the UNHCR and the Government of Lebanon in September 2003.  The MOU apparently provides a mechanism for the “issuing of temporary residence permits to asylum seekers.”[6]  Under the terms of the MOU, the UNHCR adjudicates claims for asylum and the government issues a temporary residence permit, normally for three months but possibly extended to six to nine months, allowing UNHCR to find a durable solution for the refugee in question.[7] 

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V. Entry of Syrians

Instructions applicable to the entry of Syrians into Lebanon have been published by the General Directorate of General Security.  These assign different lengths of stay and require different supporting documentation depending on the purpose of stay (tourism, attending school, receiving medical treatment, etc.).[8]

These instructions stipulate that “no Syrian shall be permitted to enter as a refugee save in exceptional circumstances as shall be later determined in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs”[9].  They further state that “Syrians previously registered as refugees will be allowed to reenter if they meet the conditions set out in this memorandum,” and that “a notarized commitment not to seek employment shall be provided when renewing temporary residency permits . . . by Syrian refugees holding UNHCR certificates.”[10]

A copy of these instructions[11] with an explanatory note[12] published by the Lebanese embassy in Berlin, Germany, state that the instructions came into effect on January 5, 2015.  They do not say anything about the renewal of residency permits, and add that Syrian refugees “traveling through Lebanese seaports are granted 24 hour stay based on a general commitment of responsibility provided by the vessel representative to the General Security at the seaport 48 hours before the departure of the vessel in which he undertakes to transport them from the borders to the seaport and be responsible for them during their presence in Lebanese territory.”[13]

No information was located regarding whether these instructions were formally adopted and issued by a Council of Ministers decree, as required under article 5 of the 1962 Law.

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Prepared by Issam Saliba
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2016


[2] 2015 UNHCR Country Operations Profile – Lebanon, UNHCR,http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e486676&submit=GO (last visited Feb. 1, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/2LRT-LDRM.

[3] UNHCR, Submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report – Universal Periodic Review: The Republic of Lebanon 2 (Apr. 2010), http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session9/LB/UNHCR_HighCommissionerforRefugees.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/ZK3U-8KGS.

[5] Law of 1962 Regulating the Entry and Stay of Foreigners in Lebanon and their Exit from the Country, Bulletin de Législation Libanaise (Journal Officiel), No. 28-1962, available on the website of the Lebanese Ministry of Justice, at http://ahdath.justice.gov.lb/law-nearby-Foreigners.htm (in Arabic), archived at http://perma.cc/N6PB-7E8K; a partial English translation of the Law is available on the UNODC website, at https://www.unodc.org/res/cld/document/lbn/1962/order_no__319_regulating_the_status_of_foreign_nationals_in_lebanon_en_html/Order_no
_319_EN_excerpts.pdf
, archived at https://perma.cc/7VZX-V33W.

[6] UNHCR Regional Office in Lebanon, Country Operations Plan 1 (2004), http://www.unhcr.org/3fd9c6a14.pdf , archived at http://perma.cc/H975-EC7S.

[7] Id. at 2.

[8] “Instructions for the Entry of Syrians,” available on the website of the General Directorate of General Security, at http://www.general-security.gov.lb/getattachment/fbe25f41-1241-449a-9f8c-c0bbcc27c974/syrian-rules.pdf.aspx?chset=a21d39a0-e95a-4e0c-8736-5c7d3c026258 (in Arabic), archived at https://perma.cc/CC7J-NGL8.

[9] Id. at IV.

[10] Id.

[11] Visas: Actions Taken Regarding the Entry of Syrian Nationals to Lebanon,Embassy of Lebanon, Berlin, http://www.libanesische-botschaft.info/index.php/ar/2013-07-31-19-07-55/2013-07-31-19-08-26 (in Arabic) (last visited Feb. 12, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/N5KP-GVTP.

[12]  Entry Visas for Lebanon,Embassy of Lebanon, Berlin, http://www.libanesische-botschaft.info/index.php/en/consular-services/visa (last visited Feb. 12, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/K6MD-U69K.

[13] Visas: Actions Taken Regarding the Entry of Syrian Nationals to Lebanon, supra note 11.