The problem of statelessness in Lebanon

By April 24, 2018

Lebanon (MNN) – Imagine finding out that your marriage is illegal and your newborn baby is stateless. That is the situation facing many new Syrian refugee parents in Lebanon.

A Long War, Lots of Problems

As Syria continues into its eighth year of civil war, more and more refugees are crossing the border into Lebanon. But this mass migration comes with many issues.

Syrians often head into refugee camps without a way to earn money, without a long-term plan, and without a solid understanding of Lebanese laws. It is understandable, as just weeks before many were running for their lives. But this makes it extremely difficult for refugees to achieve any kind of legal status. One area that this is increasingly problematic is in new marriages.

An Unexpected yet Growing Problem

Young people come to Lebanon at various ages and, as the war continues, their parents may decide it is time for them to be married. So the fathers arrange a marriage. However, without a way to provide money and physical things for the wedding, people often just get married with a small religious ceremony by someone in the camp.

This is the beginning of the issue. Unfortunately, Lebanese laws require both religious and civil ceremonies, but fulfilling those requirements can be quite expensive.

Tom Atema from Heart for Lebanon explains, “And so they say yes or they get married and then they realize that that marriage is not legal because they are in Lebanon. So the Lebanese will not verify that marriage as legal unless they pay a fee, which they probably can’t pay.

“And then in Lebanon they don’t understand the system which is not just that a Muslim has to okay it, but there is a process of civil as well as religious ceremonies. And they don’t understand that. So they end up with a marriage by physical attraction and physical living together, but it’s not legal. And therein lies a lifelong problem because without a legal marriage children won’t get birth certificates and it just spirals into a lot of complications.”

A Stateless Generation

Children without paperwork are not only illegal Lebanese residents, but they don’t have any of the benefits of belonging to a state. In Lebanon, stateless children do not have the ability to go to the hospital or go to school. And if the war ends, they won’t be able to get a passport to return home to Syria.

Atema continues, “To have a whole generation of children with no education is going to cause the world a whole lot of problems. And it’s not just a few like that. It’s very hard to get estimates, so every number I give you can be proven wrong, but the last numbers I saw were about 300,000 of these children do not have paperwork, do not have birth certificates.”

(Courtesy of Heart for Lebanon)

The problem is complicated and so there are no simple answers. But there is hope. Heart for Lebanon helps these families see Christ’s love for them and get an education despite their refugee status.

They are working hard with local believers and are seeing a lot of fruit, but they need more help.

Start Praying, Get Involved

Atema shares that prayer is vital to their ministry, “Christians need to be praying, because it’s the best open door we’ve ever had to reach the Muslims in the Middle East with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are wide open; the fruit is hanging from the trees. Every month, Heart for Lebanon has 1,300 plus Muslims in our Bible Study programs.”

Please pray that nations around the world would partner with the Lebanese government to provide better options and education to Syrian refugees. Pray that newlyweds would seek to make their marriages legal. But most importantly, pray that Syrian refugees would find faith in Christ so, whether they are stateless or not, they would have permanent citizenship in Heaven.

Look for opportunities to get educated about and involved with the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon. The more you know, the more you can share and bring awareness and passion to others to instigate change.

For additional ways to pray for Lebanon, click here.

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