Aid shortfall giving rise to refugee underclass, warns NRC

Insufficient foreign aid and restrictive government policies are fuelling the creation of an underclass of Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan, says NGO

Insufficient foreign aid and restrictive government policies are fuelling the creation of an underclass of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, sowing seeds of future unrest, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned Sunday.

Syrians who sought refuge in neighbouring Arab states are being denied the ability to live freely, to earn a living, and to gain access to the most basic state services, the agency said, with many unable to secure the basic legal documents needed to support themselves and their families.

“Without an enormous investment in the Middle East to support refugees and host communities, and a shift in the policies that prevent refugees from obtaining legal documents so they can support themselves and their families, refugees will have no choice but to risk the often life-threatening trip to Europe or elsewhere in ever greater numbers,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the NRC.

The conflict in Syria has given rise to more than 4.3 million refugees. The NRC estimates that 70 per cent of the refugee population in Lebanon - more than 700,000 people - has lost its legal right to remain in the country. In Jordan, some 250,000 Syrian refugees are still estimated to be without an updated government registration and 30 per cent of Syrian refugee children do not have birth certificates.

The desperate situation of people in a legal limbo could sow the seeds of future unrest among the more than 1 million people - or 7 out of 10 Syrian refugees – who now live in poverty across Jordan and Lebanon and have difficulty getting access to services such as healthcare and education for their children, Egeland said. Government services in these countries have come under pressure from the surge in population caused by people fleeing the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

In Lebanon the situation is being exacerbated by the stringent requirements related to housing and employment status refugees face when applying for renewal of residency. The NRC says the requirements are impossible for most refugees to meet, while the relatively high cost of renewal - $275 per person per annum for everyone over 15 - is prohibitive for most refugee families, whose average income is around $390 per month. Syrian refugees without the right papers are becoming virtual prisoners, afraid to move too far from their homes in case they are detained and involuntarily relocated to refugee camps, the NGO said.

Close to 14,000 Syrian refugees, almost half of whom are children, have been involuntarily relocated to the Zaatari and Azraq camps since April 2014. A survey conducted by the NRC late in 2015 found that half of those refugees in Jordan said that they were intending to leave because they saw no future in the country.

“An entire underclass is being created across the region,” said Egeland. “Insufficient international aid and the policies of host governments make it next to impossible for Syrian refugees to live in the Middle East.”