Safe return and voluntary repatriation for Syrian refugees from Lebanon: What needs to happen next?

This discussion paper was originally published by the United Nations University: Centre for Policy Research. Learn more about their work here.

Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, with estimates placing the number of Syrian refugees within its borders at 1.5 million. While the international community has shifted its focus towards more recent conflicts, most notably the conflict in Ukraine, the Governments of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey remain entangled in regional conflicts producing some of the highest numbers of refugees in the world.

Lebanon continues to endure an increasingly alarming array of political, economic, social, and health crises – a reality that has been particularly true for the country’s Syrian refugee community. Amid Lebanon’s worsening economic and financial crises, as well as the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak and the Beirut blast, Syrian refugees have been thrust into extreme poverty and face increased protection risks.

In 2022, Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of the Displaced announced a government plan to begin repatriating 15,000 Syrian refugees to Syria each month, insisting that “the war is over and the country has become safe”. He did not, however, outline how the end of the war and safety of the country had been conclusively determined. According to the Minister, these returns are to take place without the involvement of UNHCR, which Lebanon’s Government has asked to suspend assistance to those selected for repatriation; once again, without clearly outlining the basis or grounds for this selection.