Human rights defender Rouba Mhaissen
Dr. Rouba Mhaissen (31) is a Syrian-Lebanese economist, activist, community mobilizer and development practitioner who works on forced migration and the Syrian refugee crisis. She is the founder and director of Sawa for Development and Aid, and an outspoken defender of the rights of people living as refugees. Her relentless demands for human rights for all refugees have been heard in international fora. Through her advocacy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Mhaissen underlines the importance of treating refugees and other migrants with dignity and as people with the right to form their own lives and destinies:
From “policy of no policy” to forced return
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Lebanese government has maintained open borders for Syrian refugees. The early arrivers were allowed to work in certain sectors of the economy, despite being exposed to expensive fees for work-permits, marginalization, and limited freedom of movement. But as the civil war endures, the refugees’ situation has become precarious. The demographic, political, and economic balance in Lebanon is fragile as a third of the local population lives below the poverty line and one out of four are refugees. Lebanese authorities routinely blame the country’s hardship on the refugees, and the economic crisis has further increased the suspicions of refugees.
In this increasingly volatile situation, the Lebanese government has begun emphasizing return-policies toward Syrians living in Lebanon, through a combination of restrictive policies and rampant discrimination. Unlawful evictions, harassment, intimidation, and attacks on refugees leave many with no choice but to return. Upon their arrival in Syria, many have faced arbitrary arrests, interrogations and torture. For Syrian refugees, both residing in Lebanon or returning to Syria represent impossible “choices”.