Have Syrian war and refugee crisis highlighted existing problems in Lebanon?

With more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, compounded with other refugee communities, Lebanon is the country with the highest per-capita concentration of refugees worldwide.

He was the best in his class. 17-year old Syrian Hozaifa is now paraplegic after bombing and lives as refugee in Beqaa, Lebanon. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Questions:

1. What kind of impact do Syrian conflict and refugee crisis have on Lebanon especially from the political and security point of view?

2. How could/should Europe (the West) support Lebanon regarding refugee crisis?

Answers:

Sahar Atrache, Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group

1. The Syrian conflict and refugee crisis have highlighted and exacerbated existing problems in the country, most importantly the erosion of the state’s institutions, its deplorable infrastructure, the deep sectarian rift, the Lebanese approach that often focuses on symptoms (now the jihadists threats) rather than root causes. As a result, Lebanon has adopted a security-focused policy towards refugees who are often blamed for the woes of the country.

In addition, lack of resources, weak institutions, corruption and an incompetent and irresponsible political class are all factors that have prevented Lebanon from adopting a comprehensive approach toward refugees, one that seeks to prevent tensions, address security concerns while providing for their needs (and infringing on their dignity and rights).

Because Syrians, some of them allegedly came for refugee camps, were involved in clashes in Arsal in August 2014, the security forces regular crackdown on refugee settlements and informal camps is widely perceived as legitimate and necessary to protect the country. However, this stigmatisation and exclusion is sometimes exacerbating the very problem of extremism Lebanon claims to prevent because it fuels feeling of injustice and resentment among refugees and might play in the hand of Jihadist groups.

Finally, given the country’s very brittle sectarian balance, most communities see the presence of over 1 million Syrian refugees, a majority of whom are Sunnis, through a sectarian lens.This presence triggers fears among the various communities, especially among Christians.  There is also an important socio-economic dimension where Syrian manpower is competing with Lebanese.

2. Several European countries and the U.S. have helped Lebanon, supporting its effort to provide to refugees’ needs. However, there is a need for a more long-term approach, one that focuses on development projects (rather than relief and cash handouts) that would benefit both Syrians and deprived host communities. There should be more pressure on Lebanon to address corruption especially when funds are dedicated to refugees and other marginalized communities, requiring more transparency and efficiency from state actors. They could also encourage a more humane approach by the army and police, requiring a conduct (toward the refugees and other communities) consistent with international law and human rights standards.

Hilal Khashan, Professor of Political Science, American University of Beirut (AUB)

1. Needless to say, the impact of the Syrian conflict has been mighty on Lebanese politics and security. By the same token, the involvement of Hizbollah in the Syrian armed conflict has had far more adverse consequences on the Syrian people than their presence has had on Lebanon. Even though radical militants have masqueraded as Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the country’s overall security situation is stable. Politically, many Lebanese resent the presence of Syrians because they upset the country’s precarious demographic balance since the vast majority of them are Sunni Muslims. In addition, the Syrians can easily and favourably compete with the Lebanese as entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses.

2. No amount of Western help can alleviate the pressure presented by two million Syrian refugees on Lebanon’s population of five million residents. The West can best serve the interests of Lebanon and the refugees by expediting the resolution of the Syrian conflict so that they can expeditiously return to rebuild their devastated country. There has been absolutely no need for this conflict to go on for six years with no end in sight

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