For Syrian refugees in Lebanon, love is not free for all

With Lebanon’s authorities now obliging Syrian refugees to sign pledges not to have relationships with Lebanese women, the country has further debased its once-proud tradition of human rights, argues Makram Rabah.

Mid-February is generally a festive time of year, with people worldwide indulging in perhaps one of capitalism’s favorite celebrations of true and imagined romance, Valentine’s Day. In Lebanon, the Valentine’s Day frenzy was no different, as greedy florists and tacky gift shops and restaurants happily sold their services to the many couples who wanted to display their love to their significant other.

Yet for the Syrian refugees across Lebanon, participation in these luxury rituals was not only marred by their subhuman living conditions but also by an absurd and insolent new Lebanese government directive that forbids marriage or romantic relationships of any kind between Syrian refugees and Lebanese citizens, under penalty of criminal action.

This offensive and demeaning gesture became public after an image of a sworn affidavit was leaked over social media, in which a Syrian male requesting a renewal of his student visa had to pledge he would not engage in any relationship with or marry any Lebanese woman during his stay in Lebanon. At first many people, myself included, assumed the document was a practical joke, or that a logical context would suffice to explain this peculiarity.

True to form, the Lebanese General Directorate of General Security (GDGS), the body that had requested the affidavit, soon clarified that this requirement applies to all foreign students, not only Syrians, enrolled in religious seminaries. For the GDGS, this was a measure to prevent these students from entering into any sham marriages to obtain permanent residency. While this justification might ostensibly make some sense, a deeper reading of the affidavit and the predicament of Syrian refugees leads one to an alarming reality, one that uncovers a series of shortsighted xenophobic policies that exacerbate an already horrific situation.

Preventing non-Lebanese from violating visa regulations is a noble and commendable act, yet there is neither logic nor legal precedent in preventing ‘legal aliens’ from entering into marriages.  If such marriages do indeed turn out to be shams, it is the duty of the state to enquire and annul such transactions. That the affidavit the Syrian national was bullied into signing also clearly prevented him from “engaging in any current or future affair with any Lebanese female” indicates the Lebanese government’s intention went beyond merely preempting a potential abuse of the visa and residency laws. In essence, the GDGS, either by design or chance, infringed on the individual’s inalienable divine or earthly rights, and more important his dignity as a human being.

Lebanon might pride itself on being one of the drafters of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, through the eminent Lebanese diplomat and philosopher Charles Malik, but over the years it has faltered on this front. Article 16 of the Declaration clearly states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” Given that the Lebanese parliament has ratified this international treaty, its provisions take precedence over all other local laws, including the GDGS’ senseless administrative circulars and memos.

Unfortunately, despite this, in the case of the aforementioned affidavit, the public notary—a custodian of the law, who holds a Master’s in Lebanese law—brushed aside these essential legal truths and willfully facilitated this blatant breach of human rights. The foundations of any governance structure dictate that the different branches of government monitor one another to ensure that the spirit of the law and constitution is upheld.

Yet when it comes to Syrian refugees, all branches of the Lebanese government, as well as other sinister factions, seem to concur that more measures and absurd regulations should be conjured to make their stay in their Lebanese purgatory even more unpleasant.

Equally shameful is that while the this whole affair was unraveling, some Lebanese voiced approval of the GDGS’ regulations, seeing them as a way of preserving the purity of the so-called Lebanese race, now under attack by the hordes of refugees whose only obsession is to impregnate Lebanese women and steal the country’s resources.

These Lebanese inbreds are free to believe these delusions and persist in condoning the actions of their state vis-à-vis the refugee crisis and other moral issues, which at the end of the day only prove that Lebanon’s legacy of tolerance and morality is indeed a relic of its buried past. To pretend otherwise is the real sham.