Yearly UN Study: Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Accumulated More Debt in 2018 than Ever Before

Beirut, Lebanon, 26 December 2018 – Three United Nations (UN) agencies today published a report on the overall situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The 2018 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees (VASyR) concludes that despite some improvements in some areas thanks to the extensive humanitarian response in the country, the situation of refugees remains precarious. The report was jointly produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).




69 per cent of Syrian refugee families remain below the poverty line, while over 51 per cent live below the survival minimum expenditure basket of USD 2.90 per day, a progress from last year. Looking specifically at children with disabilities, 80 per cent belonged to households living below the poverty line.

“The situation remains precarious for most Syrian refugee families in Lebanon, despite efforts to prioritize support to the most severely vulnerable families in 2018. The study is a poignant reminder of the daily hurdles refugees have to go through just in order to survive”, said UNHCR Representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard.




To make up for economic shortcomings, over 90 per cent of Syrian refugee households continue to apply a variety of negative coping strategies, especially those harmful to children.

Food-related coping strategies range from eating cheaper food to spending days without eating, while livelihood strategies range from incurring debt to putting children to work. Nine out of 10 households apply food coping strategies, and 97 per cent of households apply a livelihood coping strategy of some form.

The study revealed that 88 per cent of Syrian refugee households have debts. The average debt per household has steadily increased over the years – from USD 800 in 2016, to USD 900 in 2017 to over USD 1,000 in 2018. This shows that even with assistance, refugees continue to lack enough resources to cover their essential needs.




Child labour continues to be an issue among Syrian refugee children. Five percent of refugee children aged between five and 17 years worked at least one day in the past 30 days. Additionally, economic activities were mainly carried out by boys, as opposed to household chores being carried out by girls. Furthermore, child marriage is on the rise, with a seven per cent increase in girls between 15 and 19 years old currently married, reaching 29 per cent in 2018.




School enrolment for girls and boys for the mandatory school age from 6 to 14 years old continues to increase – from 56 per cent in 2016 to 70 per cent in 2017. However, there is a significant gap in the younger (3-5) and older groups (15-17), where nearly 8 out of 10 are not in school. Costs of transport and schools’ supplies remain the main reason behind not enrolling, with work also being a prominent reason among the 15-17 year olds. Additionally, children of school age (6 to 14) with disabilities continue facing challenges accessing education, with only 44 per cent being enrolled.

“These findings are a reminder to all of us that the situation for children is becoming more delicate,” said Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF Representative. “We are seeing refugee families resorting to behaviours that put their children at increasing harmful risks. The priority for decision-makers and those fighting on the ground should be to address these increasing multi-vulnerabilities being faced by children and their families”.




While food security for Syrian refugees improved in the last year thanks to the extensive humanitarian response, one third (34 percent) of households remain moderately to severely food insecure. Food insecurity continues to be associated with higher economic vulnerability. Food insecure households have a lower per capita expenditure, more debt, and allocate a majority of their expenses to food.

“It is quite positive to see some improvements in food security levels this year compared to previous periods,” said WFP Representative and Country Director Abdallah Alwardat. “But to maintain these gains, sustained humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable groups is paramount.”




Obtaining documentation for legal residency continues to be a critical challenge, despite recent positive policy developments. Similarly to 2017 results, only 27 per cent of Syrian refugees over 15 years of age hold legal residency.

In terms of civil documentation, 97 per cent of Syrian children born in Lebanon have some form of documentation to attest to their birth, in particular a delivery certificate from the hospital/midwife or Mukhtars. However, despite improvements in birth registration for Syrian children born in Lebanon, 79 per cent of refugee births remain technically unregistered in 2018, as they have not completed the entire four-step process of official birth registration, some of which until recent waivers required legal residency from the parents.




There has been a marked deterioration in shelter conditions amongst Syrian refugee households, and an increase in the number of refugees living in non-permanent structures. 34 per cent of households now live in non-residential or non-permanent structures, an increase from 26 per cent in 2017.


About VASyR


The Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR) is a yearly study carried out by UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF. It is a vital tool of the humanitarian response to understand the needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The full report details a series of recommendations that will inform future humanitarian programming in Lebanon. It is available at:


For more information


Lisa Abou Khaled, [email protected], +96171880070

Rana El Khoury, [email protected], +9613438127


Edward Johnson, [email protected], +96176320761


Maya Outayek, [email protected], +96170190634