Lebanon has had an ambiguous approach to the more than one million Syrians seeking protection in the country since 2011. The country is neither party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, nor does it have any national legislation dealing with refugees. In October 2014, Lebanon’s Council of Ministers adopted the first comprehensive policy on Syrian displacement, one explicit goal of which is to decrease the number of Syrians in Lebanon by reducing access to territory and encouraging return to Syria. This ambition is currently being implemented through the December 2014 General Security Office new set of entry requirements for Syrians and new rules for Syrian nationals already in Lebanon applying for and renewing their residency permits.
Building on 10 months of fieldwork in Lebanon, this article explores the legal status of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in light of the recent regulatory changes. It argues that these leave many refugees in a deeply precarious legal position, with an overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees present in Lebanon without legal status. In essence, this article argues that Syrians in Lebanon are left with two options: they either leave the country or stay and accept exploitation.