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Assessing Syrian refugees’ access to justice

Researchers, donors, journalists and civil society activists gather at LAU for a roundtable to discuss Syrian Refugees’ concerns and access to formal and informal justice systems in Lebanon.

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Refugees living in Beirut show lower levels of trust in the judiciary and municipalities than elsewhere, researchers say.

Three dozen researchers, donors, civil society members and journalists gathered at LAU this week to discuss Syrian refugees’ access to justice. They came for a roundtable on the subject, hosted by LAU’s The Institute of Social Justice and Conflict Resolution (ISJCR)

The event kicked off with presentations by Assistant Professor of political science and ISJCR Associate Director Tamirace Fakhoury and Karim el-Mufti, a professor at the International Centre for Human Sciences (CISH). The two scholars and their affiliate institutions are part of a consortium conducting research that aims to contribute to a more people-centered approach towards rule of law programs. Mufti presented some results from focus groups that involved 63 participants, while Fakhoury shared quantitative results based on the responses of 1,200 Syrian refugees to a survey carried out in the summer of 2015.

“The unsaid policy of the Lebanese authorities is to make the legal and actual stay of Syrian refugees hell,” said Mufti, noting that most of the men and women he interviewed were illegals in Lebanon since their visas expired last year. “Lebanon can’t send them back to Syria and doesn’t want to nationalize them, so they need to work on diplomacy so that other countries can resettle them.”

The results of the survey, which focused on refugees’ perceptions and experience with both formal and informal aspects of the justice system, were more positive than those of the focus groups, said Fakhoury. “However, while the majority of respondents said they have confidence in the Lebanese state security and justice personnel, only 4 percent have actually ever resorted to official authorities to press charges,” she added.

Interestingly, while on the whole confidence in formal justice providers (the judiciary, security services and municipalities) is generally higher than in the informal equivalents (religious figures, political parties, NGOs, community elders), there are variations depending on the problem being faced and the respondent’s city of residence. “Refugees living in Beirut show lower levels of trust in the judiciary and municipalities than elsewhere, while in the south, political parties and local figures are considered more efficient than in other districts,” noted Fakhoury.

The findings were discussed enthusiastically by the audience, many of whose members had their own data and experiences to share. “We monitored conflict at various camps and noticed a definite link between the type of conflict and justice provider sought,” said Natalia Menhall of the consulting firm Beyond Reform and Development. Taking up this theme, Fakhoury recommended conducting more research on correlation between the type of grievances and disputes with the actors best suited to respond to them.

While some of those present considered the approach of Syrians to formal and informal actors to be similar to those of Lebanese, LAU Associate Professor of political science and international affairs Marwan Rowayheb noted that “while Syrians brought their conflicts with them to Lebanon, they did not bring their mechanisms.”

The fact that the refugees surveyed did not attach much significance to religious actors was interesting, said Rowayheb. “Syria and its justice system are secular. Syrians had a non-religious secular civil system and so their ability to imitate the Lebanese is limited when our informal actors are based on clientelism.”

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