Lebanon, which is currently under a strict lockdown that includes a 24/7 curfew, recently witnessed a surge in COVID-19 cases. On 27 January, the country’s interim health minister announced that every person in the country—regardless of their nationality–would receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Questions remain, however, whether many refugees will be willing to present themselves for vaccinations, given their vulnerability to arrest and detention.
Previously, health officials had stated that the government would only take responsibility for vaccinating Lebanese nationals, and that UN agencies would be responsible for distributing the vaccine to the country’s large refugee population. Some social media users–riled up by xenophobic political rhetoric–have openly called for the distribution of vaccines “exclusively” to Lebanese citizens, with some using the hashtag “#اللقاح_للبناني_أولاً” (vaccine for the Lebanese first). One Twitter user wrote: “No country in the world allows any person on its soil to be vaccinated before its citizens are vaccinated. The United Nations must complete its delivery of the vaccine to all Lebanese before we allow any doses to be delivered to a stranger.”
Human Rights Watch has responded to this rhetoric by re-affirming that “Discrimination on the basis of national origin or residency status is contrary to international law, and in particular would violate Lebanon’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).”
As previously reported on this platform (see 2 June 2020 update), refugees face significant barriers in Lebanon. A large proportion lack legal status, leaving them with limited access to essential services including health care, and vulnerable to arrest and detention. Some local authorities also allegedly used the pandemic to further isolate refugees from the general population, introducing restrictions that do not apply to Lebanese citizens. This, coupled with a deteriorating economic situation–with Lebanon suffering its worst economic crisis since the Civil War, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic and the August Beirut port explosion–has seen frustrations rise amongst refugees, 90 percent of whom reported to UNHCR in July that they had lost their incomes or witnessed salary reductions.
The country’s social, economic, and political woes have also prompted growing frustrations amongst Lebanese nationals. Since August, the number of irregular boats attempting the journey from Lebanon to Cyprus is reported to have significantly risen. (The UN reports that it tracked 30 boats between July and October 2020, compared to 17 throughout 2019. For more, see 12 November Cyprus update on this platform.) Numerous reports have alleged that Cypriot authorities have denied Lebanese asylum seekers the opportunity to lodge applications, instead immediately returning them to Lebanon.
- Human Rights Watch, “Lebanon: Gaps Remain in Vaccine Program Planning,” 28 January 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/01/28/lebanon-gaps-remain-vaccine-program-planning
- S. El Deeb, “Lebanon Reserving Nearly 2 Million Coronavirus Vaccines,” AP, 28 December 2020, https://yhoo.it/3r4wQ3U
- Orient News, “لقاح كورونا يحيي العنصرية ضد اللاجئين السوريين في لبنان” January 20 2021, https://bit.ly/2YpFOfz
- R. Hodzic, “Plight of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Must Not be Ignored,” Al Jazeera, 26 January 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/26/plight-of-syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-must-not-be-ignored
- B. Bathke, “Syrian Refugee Sets Himself on Fire in Front of UNHCR Office in Beirut,” InfoMigrants, 6 November 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/28365/syrian-refugee-sets-himself-on-fire-in-front-of-unhcr-office-in-beirut
- InfoMigrants, “بالصور: الهجرة إلى أوروبا في 2020,” January 1 2021, https://bit.ly/3ad4Ynb
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Lebanon – 2018 Update,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/middle-east/lebanon