Lebanon has the highest per capita number of refugees worldwide. The country’s Syrian refugees have long faced a ‘no-policy-policy’ that prevented the establishment of official refugee camps and refused to give them formal refugee status. The subsequent stringent entry and residency regime has left over seventy percent of Syrian refugees without legal residency status. This situation of imposed informality and systematic unpredictability in some ways reproduces the position of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees. With reference to an increasingly illusory ‘right to return,’ these have faced seven decades of ‘permanent temporariness’ in what is often called a perpetual ‘state of exception.’
Drawing on extensive fieldwork, qualitative case-studies, and critical policy analysis, this book questions the dominant idea that the haphazardness, inconsistency, and fragmentation of refugee governance is only the result of state fragility and the related capacity problems. It demonstrates that the endemic ambiguity that determines refugee governance also results from a lack of political will to create coherent and comprehensive rules of engagement to address refugee crises. Building on emerging literatures in the fields of critical refugee studies, hybrid governance, and ignorance studies, it proposes a conceptual framework to capture the spatial, temporal, and procedural dimensions of the uncertainty that refugees face and to tease out the strategic components of the reproduction and extension of such informality, liminality, and exceptionalism. In developing the notion of a ‘politics of uncertainty,’ ambiguity is explored as a component of a governmentality that enables the control, exploitation, and expulsion of refugees.