Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor

Defending Freedom Throughout the MENA Region

Waves of displaced Syrians only ‘tip of the iceberg’ in larger crisis of warehoused refugees

Posted On : 2015-09-21
Press Releases  \   Rights of refugees and migrants
Lebanon ,


Geneva - As EU officials continue to squabble over how to respond to the growing wave of migrants and refugees, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor is releasing an in-depth report using Lebanon as a case study of the larger crisis increasingly facing the global community.

“Most of the current debate has focused on the immediate crisis of the moment: how to stop smugglers and which countries should accept how many asylum seekers,” states the executive summary of the report. “However, there is an ever-growing problem that in the long run will exact an even higher price: the expanding proportion of refugees and forced migrants for whom displacement has become a chronic state.  In fact, the average period of time that a refugee spends out of his or her country now is 10 years.”

The Euro-Med report focuses on Lebanon because it now hosts more refugees per capita than any other country in the world (232 per 1,000 inhabitants), as well as the oldest population of long-term refugees (the Palestinians, living in limbo for 60 years now).  

“Syria is currently the world's biggest producer of both internally displaced people and refugees,” notes Pam Bailey, the researcher for Euro-Med who compiled the report. “And Lebanon is home to an estimated 1.5 million of these refugees—the highest per capita number of all the countries serving as haven. This huge influx is stressing local economies and generating xenophobia in Lebanon and other host countries, thus intensifying the drive to take tremendous risks by crossing the Mediterranean to try their chances in Europe.”

However, the Euro-Med report adds that this needed focus on Syrian refugees must not be allowed to completely overshadow the Palestinians living in Lebanon and subject to severe discrimination. 

“There is an almost total lack of attention to the 5 million Palestinians living in a state of perpetual limbo in the Occupied Territories or as refugees elsewhere—including about 450,000 registered with UNRWA in Lebanon. This longest-in-history warehousing of human beings, more than 60 years, is a moral travesty and it is time to put it to an end,” the report notes.

Bailey is the international director of Euro-Med’s We Are Not Numbers project, which this week began adding the stories of Palestinian refugees from Lebanon to its website, to bring greater visibility to their plight.

Euro-Med concludes the report with several recommendations for the United Nations, EU member states and other stakeholders that go beyond “putting out fires” to address the long-term, systemic problems that feed the acute crises:


  •          Eliminate ‘begging’ from the equation. Relief agencies such as the UNHCR and UNRWA must be assured of reliable funding so that refugees do not pay the price.
  •          Incorporate capacity building and grassroots development into migrant and refugee programs and funding from the very beginning. Refugees are more likely than not to spend years, perhaps decades, displaced from their home countries. A focus on band-aid forms of relief is no longer sufficient.
  •          Plan from the “bottom up” instead of “top down”—meaning making it required to include beneficiaries in all phases of development and implementation.
  •          Better support host countries—and demand that standards are met. In order for host countries to be able and willing to accept the seemingly never-ending flow of refugees and treat them humanely, they must receive aid that will build up their economies and benefit their citizens as well. In return, host countries must, first and foremost, give refugees the right to work.
  •          Spread the burden with dramatically increased opportunities for resettlement. It is time for all European countries, as well as the United States, to accept more of the responsibility for the imbalance in the world’s wealth.
  •          End the “special case” of the Palestinians. It is time to insist that their human rights are secured while they wait for a just solution to their displacement by Israel.


As the U.S. Committee for Refugees stated so eloquently,  “Condemning people who fled persecution to stagnate in confinement for much of the remainder of their lives is unnecessary, wasteful, hypocritical, counterproductive, unlawful and morally unacceptable.” 


Click here to read the report