Struggling to Survive: Slavery and exploitation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon


Freedom Fund


Dr. Katharine Jones and Leena Ksaifi


Conducted in the early part of 2016 this project documented the manifestations of slavery and human trafficking among the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon. This exploratory research looked in particular at child labour, sexual exploitation, forced labour, child marriage, and organ trafficking. With interviews conducted with senior representatives of government departments, municipalities, international organisations, international NGOs and grassroots organisations, this project also aimed to advise Freedom Fund and its partners about areas for potential funding in Lebanon, and to make recommendations about tackling slavery and trafficking.


In the wake of the still-raging conflict in Syria, half the population – 11 million people - has been killed or forced to flee their homes. Syrians now constitute the largest refugee population in the world. Since the beginning of the conflict, at least 1.1 million women, men and children from Syria, including Palestinian Syrians – refugees from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands - have sought protection across their western border in Lebanon. Almost six years on, the vast majority of refugees in Lebanon are living in abject poverty, in precarious accommodation and scraping by in the barest of survival modes, and the government of Lebanon has effectively closed its borders.

Globally, human trafficking has been connected to conflicts and wars from Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia and Afghanistan to the Balkans and Latin America. The massive displacement of civilian populations that usually accompanies conflict also facilitates the movement of people into highly exploitative situations. In 2015, the UN Security Council discussed human trafficking in conflict situations for the first time ever. While there are a large number of organisations in Lebanon providing services and support to Syrian refugees, efforts to curb the growing incidence of slavery and human trafficking are often uncoordinated, limited in their focus and do not always target those most at risk. This report sets out a pathway to deliver tangible and lasting change. It examines the different ways in which slavery is occurring among Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the multiple factors that combine to force people into situations of slavery. Addressing these risk factors will require the commitment of a broad range of stakeholders, including the Lebanese government, international governments, international organisations, NGOs and donors. This report provides a set of targeted and integrated recommendations to counter slavery and human trafficking of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

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