Concerns over leakage of Syrian refugees’ data in Lebanon after being delivered by United Nations

Syrian refugees prepare to leave their camp in Lebanon towards Syria - October 26, 2022 (France Press Agency)

Syrian refugees prepare to leave their camp in Lebanon towards Syria - October 26, 2022 (France Press Agency)

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Lebanese authorities’ numbers conflict when it comes to discussing the file of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, as there are no clear details or specific statistics that Lebanese officials rely on.

On December 12, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, announced that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) handed over the data concerning Syrian refugees in Lebanon to the Lebanese General Security.

This came after Mikati’s meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, on the sidelines of their participation in the Global Refugee Forum at the UN headquarters in Geneva.

Mikati stated in a press release that the Lebanese General Security is currently sorting the data sheets of Syrian refugees to demonstrate the situation of each case individually, even the cases not registered with the UNHCR.

According to the UN official, the optimal solution is to support the displaced individuals in Syria, but this requires time, pointing to an agreement with the Syrian regime to open a coordination office for the UNHCR on the border between Lebanon and Syria.

Who protects the refugees?

The Lebanese government had requested the UNHCR to deliver this data on the pretext of organizing the presence of refugees for over a year, reaching an agreement with the commission in this regard last August.

Enab Baladi communicated with the UNHCR in Lebanon, which clarified via email that it shared the data with the Lebanese government for various purposes but while ensuring the protection of refugees.

After several discussions about the technical methods of data sharing, the UNHCR decided to transfer the basic data of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in one batch, considering that the August 8, 2023 agreement has been implemented, according to the commission.

The agreement signed in August aims to provide the Lebanese General Security with the basic personal data, according to the commission, which will help enhance the existing cooperation in issues such as securing services like civil documents and legal residence, as well as facilitating the resettlement process to third countries.

The commission added that this proposal falls under the international protection laws and standards for data protection, and therefore, the Lebanese government is committed to not using any shared data for purposes conflicting with international law or disclosing it to any third party, including the country of origin. It also reiterated its commitment to the principle of non-refoulement and its obligations under international law.

“The government is not reliable”

The president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, Wadih al-Asmar, talked about the Lebanese government’s insistence on receiving the data of Syrian refugees and said, “Unfortunately, the Lebanese government’s actual competence is to invent non-existent problems and claim to find solutions.” 

He added that the government should have been the one managing this data from the beginning.

He explained that the Lebanese General Security had previously been handing over data of Syrians entering Syria in order to have them removed from the UNHCR’s lists, in case their data was included.

Al-Asmar warned against handing over these lists to the Syrian regime, as data management in the Lebanese state is not trustworthy and is not reliable.

He considered this step to be a fake accomplishment, as the Lebanese government was seeking populism and to show that it was working on the refugee file despite not having a mechanism to study this issue.

He also pointed out that the Lebanese state is obligated not to carry out forced returns, even though one can not be certain of the credibility of its promises. However, legally, it is not entitled to return any refugee who may be at risk.

Lebanese officials name the Syrians in Lebanon “displaced,” despite the inconsistency of the appellation with the reality of the UN classification, which distinguishes between displacement and refuge in terms of crossing international borders.

According to the UNHCR, the displaced are different from the refugees in the sense that they are those who have not crossed international borders in search of safety but have remained internally displaced within their own countries.

The number of Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon is approximately 789,000, while Lebanese figures speak of 1.5 million “displaced” Syrians in Lebanon.

 

 

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