Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: A Political Crisis? (Opinion)
The Syrian civil war has impacted the international community in countless ways. Not only has the war completely destroyed the economy and infrastructure of most Syrian cities, but it has also become the world’s largest refugee producer with 6.6 million of the pre-war population internally displaced to safer cities like Damascus. Other neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are hosting the majority of the refugees, with a total of over 5.2 million. The European Union is also hosting around 1 million Syrian refugees, mostly in Germany and Sweden.
The Syrian refugee crisis has become one of the biggest humanitarian tragedies and has caused great controversy throughout the media. However, whenever it is mentioned on the news, the focus remains on the European migration crisis. The western media has not payed much attention to other neighboring countries-- most specifically Lebanon which has been hit the most by refugees starting from early 2012. The massive amount of Syrian refugees has greatly affected the country and destabilized the already volatile Lebanese society.
Lebanon is currently hosting a refugee population that is around 1.5 million. Refugees now make up fifteen percent of Lebanon’s total population, giving it the highest refugee per capita globally. Beyond changing demographics, Lebanon’s economy was hit the most by the Syrian Civil War-- the costs are almost 17.3 billion and increasing. The civil war has also slowed the economy’s growth by one percent. The oversupply of Syrian labor has increased the unemployment rate. Syrian workers are in direct competition with the Lebanese laborers, thereby increasing the already existing tension between Lebanese citizens and the newcomers.
Dana Tohme’19, a Beirut native says, “Some Lebanese people accuse the Syrian refugees of stealing their jobs because they are willing to work for less.” She also adds that the hostility comes from a sense of prejudice, “they think they are superior from the refugees because the refugees are poor and homeless.”
On the international level, Lebanon received 85 EUR in the year of 2017 only from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid. But the Lebanese government is still stalling by refusing to build camps due to their lack of resources. This leaves the Syrian refugees scattered around Lebanon and makes it much more difficult to accommodate their basic needs like education and health care. Therefore, they are often forced to work in illegal conditions to get these supplies.
“The government has stopped registering Syrians, so technically they are illegal in the country, which makes them more vulnerable for human trafficking,” adds Dana. The rise in unemployment, lack of resources and changing demographics are all factors contributing to the rise of discrimination against Syrian refugees.
Recently, there have been many reported attacks against Syrian refugees including a brutal beating of a refugee that went viral. The attackers repeatedly call Syrian men “ISIS members,” and ask them about their papers. This rhetoric is gaining some popularity throughout Lebanon and many public figures have recently urged the government to make concrete plans on returning refugees to their homeland. Beshara al-Rai, the head of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian church, said that the government should make efforts to return Syrians to their country. But the violence of the war has destroyed and damaged any physical attachments that the refugees might have had to go back to. In addition, most refugees are suffering from physical and physiological trauma. It is illogical and against humanitarian values for them to go back to an unsafe Syria.
The issue of Syrian refugees is also being used as a tool by some politicians to gain more power in Lebanon. These politicians exploit the refugees and define them as the sole problem of issues in Lebanon, ignoring the country’s long history of corruption and political stalling.
Dana recalls, “The politicians say that refugees are the only problem but really it has always been the corruption.” With the current Lebanese government, it is highly unlikely that any progress will be made to improve the refugees’ programs. The stricter regulations that have been recently adapted by the government, like increasing residential fees, only make Syrians more vulnerable. The situation is already dangerous, but with politicians like President Michel Aoun stating that Syrian refugees “can’t remain in Lebanon,” it is likely to get worse. The Lebanese government does not seem concerned with creating any concrete long term plans to accommodate the refugees.