Go to main content

European Union misses opportunity to press for safety of refugees in Lebanon

Today’s visit by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Lebanon, alongside President Nikos Christodoulides of Cyprus, has failed to prioritise the safety and rights of refugees in Lebanon, instead continuing to focus on European border management and discussions on the return of refugees to Syria.

Posted on 02 May 2024

While there was welcome continued financial support from the EU for both Lebanese and refugee communities, including healthcare, education, and social protection; this was an opportunity for the EU to centre its funding support on ensuring the safety of Syrian refugees, calling for equitable access to services and assistance, and a reduction in discriminatory political discourse.

With little progress towards a political solution to the crisis in Syria and most refugees stating they do not intend to return to Syria in the short-term, safety and a rights-based approach should have been at the heart of the President’s remarks – say the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), INTERSOS, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

As conditions for both Lebanese and refugee populations worsen, with many forced to consider dangerous journeys to Europe, the Commission President has chosen to prioritisesecurity and border control over a rights-based approach.

This included promoting further discussions on return  to Syria, a country which remains unsafe for large-scale, organised returns, over inclusion and a political resolution. Any discussion on refugee returns must be based on voluntary, safe and dignified returns which is based on  informed understanding and informed decision making.

The high-level visit by the EU Commission’s President should be seen in the context of the EU’s intensified extraterritorial migration cooperation with third countries since 2015 - a policy approach also reiterated with the new EU Pact on Asylum and Migration, which aims to strengthen the EU’s external dimension on migration, shifting responsibility towards countries often already hosting a large number of refugees and asylum-seekers, yet consistently failing to focus on protection for people affected by displacement.

The obligation of EU Member States to effectively guarantee the right to asylum, which recently has been suspended by Cyprus following the decision to suspend the asylum procedures for Syrians, has been traded off for the securitisation of EU borders. This violates the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and de facto legitimises ongoing pushback practices.  

The EU should focus efforts on ensuring safe and regular pathways for people to reach protection in Europe, including through increased resettlement, or labour and student mobility schemes.

While it is not a question of whether support for Lebanon - which hosts the highest number of refugees per capita - should be delivered, assistance must be provided in a manner which respects human rights, humanitarian principles and does not focus on restricting mobility.

The EU must ensure it monitors its funding support to Lebanon, ensuring it is delivered in line with protection standards and a rights-based approach.Ultimately, a political solution to the crisis in Syria is needed, but until then donor governments must continue to support those in need, which includes hosting communities. At the same time those seeking safety must be able to apply for protection and refugees should live in safety and dignity.

DRC, INTERSOS, IRC and NRC, while acknowledging and welcoming the EU renewed financial support and announced commitments, urge the EU to stand firm on the principle of non refoulement and refrain from supporting unsafe and involuntary returns. The EU should use its funding to uphold international humanitarian law and ensure Syrian refugees in Lebanon are afforded their rights.

Notes to Editors / Media Contacts

For further information please contact the DRC Press Office on [email protected] or +45 28 11 67 27

Or Matthew Hemsley, DRC Middle East Advocacy and Communications Manager on [email protected] or +962 7 974 26 583 (Signal / WhatsApp)

06 May 2024
DRC’s capacity building program for national/local NGO's in…
30 Apr 2024
Jordan: As Azraq camp marks 10 years, long-term solutions re…
Read more about Lebanon EU Protection