BEIRUT / SIDON: Facing inconsistent governmental policies and confusing bureaucracy, Palestinian Syrians in Lebanon are struggling to obtain and maintain proper residency status in the country.
Palestinian Syrians are required to renew their residency permits every three months and risk arrest or a heavy fine if they are found living in Lebanon with an expired permit.
But those arrested for lacking permits are often transferred to the General Security, which releases them after a few days in the absence of a decision to either renew their permits or deport them back to Syria. Once released, they are often arrested again for the same reason.
Also, many Palestinian Syrians are unable to afford the fee required to renew their permits.
Palestinian Syrians and UNRWA, the United Nations agency charged with aiding Palestinians, have sounded the alarm about this frustrating and burdensome bureaucracy.
The need for repeated renewal of residency permits and the arrest of those unable to renew them exposes refugees to “a cycle of detention,” said Zizette Darkazally, UNRWA spokeswoman in Lebanon.
Recently, 20 Palestinian Syrians, including five women, were arrested at a checkpoint near the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon. The arrests sparked a wave of protests against the Lebanese government’s policies toward the refugees.
Ruba Rahme, who fled the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Syria, is among those demanding that the government resolve the residency issues plaguing Palestinian Syrians.
“We’re asking the government to stop the measures [leading to arrests] at some checkpoints near the entrances of some camps,” Rahme said.
Khaled, a Palestinian Syrian living in Beirut, described feeling apprehension every time he passes an Army or Internal Security Forces checkpoint. “There’s a lot of fear if there are checkpoints. It’s very embarrassing if they stop you in front of all the people and interrogate you ... It’s degrading,” he told The Daily Star.
“It makes it very hard to move around the country,” agreed Mohammad, another Palestinian Syrian living in Beirut.
But even those seeking to use proper channels to renew their residency documents say they face contradictory directions at General Security.
“They’re telling us to renew our residencies, so we go and try to get them renewed [at General Security] but they tell us there has been no [governmental] decision taken on renewing them,” Rahme said.
“Some people say it will cost $200, while others say they are unable to renew them at all,” she added.
Many families would be unable to pay the required fee, she said.
Darkazally confirmed that the government’s policies toward Palestinian Syrians “are not being implemented systematically.”
Similarly, Khaled said that sometimes Lebanese authorities at checkpoints will let him pass with his expired residency permit, while other times he will be stopped and questioned. “It just depends,” he said.
Moreover, as UNRWA faces a severe funding crisis it will no longer be able to help Palestinian Syrians in Lebanon pay rent with cash assistance. The burden of paying for both residency permits and rent is likely to increase the vulnerability of many families.
A source at General Security, however, said that the residency permits of Palestinian Syrians “would be extended very soon.”
The entire convoluted system of residency permits was incongruent with the treatment of refugees, Rahme said. “We’re asking to be treated as refugees not as tourists.”