The document, dated Feb. 12, read: “I, the signatory, who holds Syrian nationality, declare it is my civil and criminal responsibility to not have a relationship or any kind of binding association with a Lebanese woman. I pledge to not marry a Lebanese woman while I study and reside in Lebanon.”
Social media commentators have slammed the Lebanese authorities, accusing them of “institutionalized racism” against Syrian refugees.
Several Syrian Facebook pages shared a photo of the document, spurring angry comments that accused the Lebanese authorities of being “racists with deeply rooted prejudices against Syrians.”
A tweet by Lebanese journalist Luna Safwan said: “A Syrian student pledged he would not fall in love or marry a Lebanese girl as a condition of getting a student visa. One of the most humiliating moves done in my country Lebanon. I feel ashamed.”
Kareem Chehayeb, another Lebanese journalist, wrote: “More vile institutionalized racism in Lebanon: Syrian student forced to sign a statement saying he won’t marry or fall in love with a Lebanese woman in order to get his visa from General Security. Shame on the authorities.”
Nader Ezzeddine, general manager of Isticharia for Strategic and Communication Studies in Beirut, confirmed that the General Security Directorate required all foreign students studying religion in Lebanon — whatever their nationality— to sign such documents. “This has been the case since 2003,” he said.
He explained that the practice aimed to protect Lebanese women as some students married local women to secure permanent residence and then divorced them.
“A student visa normally does not allow its holder to get married, so the pledge is a routine part of the student visa application process,” Ezzeddine said.
Mohammed Diab, a Syrian journalist based in Beirut, said that he had heard of two Syrian students made to sign the same pledge recently because, under current circumstances, some Syrian students in Lebanon were using marriage to gain permanent residence.
“A student visa allows a Syrian to stay in Lebanon only as long as required by the university in which he studies,” he said.
Diab believes people were quickly angered by the news “because the Lebanese authorities have recently announced many prejudiced regulations targeting Syrian refugees.”
He said that many young Syrian men were fleeing compulsory military service by moving to Lebanon or Sudan as these countries’ visa requirements were much easier compared with other countries.
“Life in Sudan is difficult and Lebanon is closer to Syria, therefore most of these young men prefer to stay in Lebanon,” he said.
Diab said that security services in Lebanon were cooperating with security services in Syria to ensure that no Daesh escapees entered Lebanon.
Ezzeddine believes the procedure is unnecessary “because if a student wished to marry a Lebanese woman, he can simply reapply for a different visa that allows him to marry her as soon as he’s done with his education and (can) consequently receive permanent residence.”
The two notaries who prepared the pledge, Maha Abou Najm and Nesrin Ayoub, told Legal Agenda, a Lebanese news website, that the General Security Directorate had not issued any statement or regulation about the issue.
A woman who works at Abou Najm’s legal office also told Legal Agenda that “such pledges are prepared at the request of the interested party.”
“The procedure is very recent and was first practiced two months ago,” she said.
However, Ayoub said that a young man had requested that she prepare the pledge for him, highlighting that this was the only such pledge she had prepared.
Lebanese lawyer Ghida Frangieh told the same website that the pledge had no legal value.
“It conflicts with the basic rights of foreign students and Lebanese women,” she said. “It constitutes arbitrary interference with personal matters and the right to marry and start a family.”