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Not Without Dignity: Views of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon on Displacement, Conditions of Return, and Coexistence

A Study for the International Center for Transitional Justice:

Discussions about a future return of refugees and coexistence among groups currently at war in Syria must begin now, even in the face of ongoing violence and displacement. This report, based on interviews with refugees, makes it clear that the restoration of dignity will be important to creating the necessary conditions for return and peaceful coexistence — and building a stable post-war Syria one day.

Download the full report in English here.
Download the executive summary in Arabic here.

June 12th, 2017

Armed conflict in Syria has displaced millions of people inside and outside of the country. When a political settlement to the conflict is eventually reached, the process of refugees returning to Syria and rebuilding their lives, relationships, and communities will be long and complex. However, discussions with displaced persons about return and coexistence can begin now, even in the face of ongoing violence and displacement.

This research report is based on interviews with refugees living in Lebanon and representatives of local and international organizations in both Lebanon and Turkey working on issues related to Syrian displacement. The report provides an important window into the experiences of refugees in Lebanon as well as their concerns, expectations, and priorities regarding conditions of return and coexistence.
The research findings highlight the harms experienced by Syrian refugees at both the individual and collective levels, including the loss of loved ones, houses, property, and businesses in Syria and difficult economic situations and discrimination in Lebanon. Displacement has had devastating impacts on families and led to broad social fragmentation, including sectarian and political divisions and rifts between those who left Syria and those who remained. The effects of conflict and displacement will be generational, as refugee children have been traumatized by their exposure to violence and largely deprived of education.

The findings also capture common priorities among Syrian refugees in Lebanon for return. Most do want to return, not just to Syria but to the regions and communities where they previously lived. Common preconditions for return include safety and security; shelter, livelihoods, and the physical reconstruction of homes and infrastructure; compensation or restitution for the loss of property and housing; the provision of education for children and youth; psychosocial support; and family reunification.

One positive development among refugees in Lebanon is that many youth engaged with local and international civil society organizations have acquired new skills and an openness to people with different religious and political beliefs that one day may contribute to rebuilding relationships in Syria.

Views about the potential for coexistence and justice vary widely. Some refugees believe that Syrians will be ready to rebuild ties once the conflict ends, while others are less optimistic. Some believe that justice is necessary for return, while others think it unlikely to occur. The research makes it clear that the restoration of dignity will play an important role in establishing the necessary conditions for refugee return and coexistence.
While return will ultimately depend on a political resolution to the Syrian conflict, several steps can be taken now that are likely to have implications for return and coexistence in the future. These include:
  • Integrate the views of refugees into discussions and policies about conditions of return, as participatory processes are more likely to lead to context-specific interventions.
  • Support community-level interventions, like the provision of psychosocial support, that can be implemented now and may facilitate return and coexistence in the future.
  • Address sexual and gender-based violence, women’s exploitation, and child marriage by empowering women, educating young girls, and raising awareness of such abuses among families.
  • Provide educational support to minimize the risk of the next generation being characterized by missed schooling, trauma, and violence.
  • Integrate property and land restitution into discussions of displacement settlement processes in the interest of future social cohesion.
  • Promote interaction between different groups and communities to reduce and prevent further sectarian and political divisions.
  • Support further research on Syrian refugee experiences and views on return and coexistence in countries such as Turkey and Jordan as well as in Europe.