George Ghali, Programs Manager, ALEF-act for human rights, Lebanon
The much-anticipated UN summit on refugees and migrants should be recognized as one important step towards the recognition of a crisis in motion and that has been building up for decades. The summit resulted in the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. Although the declaration brings attention to multiple problems affecting the voluntary and forced movement of people, the document still lacks a comprehensive view and solution to multi-layered crisis that requires attention to countries of origins and transit and not just to countries of destination. The declaration fails to address state practices, which often constitute systematic violations or an enabling environment for abuses committed on migrants and refugees.
Lebanon for example is home to millions of refugees coming from different parts of the Middle East, and thousands more migrant workers coming from Africa, South-East Asia, and other parts of the world in search of better economic opportunities.
The mass influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq resulted in additional strain on communities already suffering from under-development, and social, economic and political crises. Lebanon in particular hosts around 1.5 million Syrians, making it a country with the highest number of refugees per capita. In light of the staggering demographic influx, it is increasingly clear that the status quo is unsustainable. The Lebanese authorities have issued a number of policies in an effort to limit the repercussions of Syrian migration to Lebanon. Changes in the open border policy and the associated policies regulating residency permits, in addition to restrictions on the right to work, affect the livelihoods and self-determination of Syrian refugees, making survival increasingly precarious.
While Lebanon has the valid right to secure its borders and internal security within the continuously volatile context of the Syrian war, the new policies have introduced category-based restrictions governing border access and movement within the country. Lebanon's current policy shifts raise a number of concerns with regards to protection and international standards of human rights.
On the other hand, migrants in Lebanon have continuously been victims of violations and abuses in light of archaic Lebanese immigration laws that open the way for myriad problems, some that could be accounted as human trafficking. These workers are exposed to various forms of discrimination and other human rights violations due to misconceptions and an absence of protective legal and administrative protection. The lack of legal protection is further compounded for migrant workers within the sponsorship system, otherwise known as the kafala system. Lebanon has yet to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families because it may contradict Lebanon's current immigration control policies and the overall system. The system is based on administrative rules and legal regulations found in the Lebanese Criminal Code, the 1962 Law and the Ministry of Labor (MOL) requirements and does not take into consideration MDWs' rights as per international standards. The system allows the employer to act as the main authority regarding the migrants' immigration status when the state is the duty bearer and should be entirely responsible for immigration matters. In addition, the lack of monitoring and the absence of a complaints mechanism facilitate MDWs' exploitation.
Therefore there is an essential need to develop appropriate legal frameworks for the enjoyment of the rights to work and to just and favorable conditions of work to all migrant workers especially domestic workers as well as to regulate labor relations with special reference to domestic workers and to increase protections for this vulnerable group. Mechanisms for monitoring the rights of domestic workers should be established, in reference to international human rights and specifically the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
In light of the UN Summit on Refuge and Migration, global leaders and in particular the Lebanese government were expected to find durable solutions to the mass influx of refugees in Lebanon while meeting human rights obligations. An important and effective strategy has to be employed to maximize burden sharing, as reflected by the EXCOM conclusions, "more effective and predictable responses to mass influx situations are needed that will improve "responsibility-sharing arrangements to share the burdens of first asylum countries." While the international community has offered material assistance, material assistance should not be considered the sole requirement of burden sharing. Resettlement, security coordination, humanitarian evacuation and other forms of sustainable actions must also be part of efforts to mitigate the risks, fears and demographic challenges. As such, the follow up on the summit should address policies and legal frameworks affecting migrants and refugees, which in the long run contribute to larger, more global threats to human security.