Xenophobia against Syrians widespread in Lebanon, whilst the state observes safe distance from the regional crisis!

Wed, 12/11/2013

Manifestations of xenophobia and bigotry appear to be intrinsic to the social and psychological makeup of a large section of the Lebanese population and are intimately associated with their perception of the other. For decades, Palestinians refugees have suffered as a result of this attitude, that was accompanied with discriminatory legislation and which more recently have hit migrant workers. Syrian displaced who have had to flee their country, since 2011, in view of the deteriorating security situation in their country, are now victims of a growing xenophobic public attitude that is being fuelled intensely by the media, which has shown amazing creativity in consistently relaying negative, hostile and images in addressing problems related to the displacement of Syrians into Lebanon.

Whilst the Lebanese State continues to observe an official policy of so-called disengagement from the Syrian crisis, all political groups have adopted for their part positions vis-à-vis the displaced population depending on their political standpoints (notably towards the regime in Syria) and in line with their political feuds with domestic opponents. Whilst some political factions are viewing this issue from a more humanitarian perspective, others consciously endeavour to hold the Syrian displaced responsible for all ills plaguing the country notably unemployment, deteriorating economic conditions, increased burden on the state, deteriorating security situation and heightened crime rate. Some of the dominant political groups go as far as to request the compulsory return of the displaced to their war-torn country or their “distribution” to different countries in the world. This xenophobic and confessional discourse par excellence towards Syrians refugees is alas far from being unprecedented as it has arisen repeatedly at various junctions of the history of Lebanon particularly in relation to Palestinian refugees. Some of the political parties, sometime sharing similar confessional identities, resort to this discourse in order to mobilise their constituencies, in an attempt to tilt the political balance of power in their favour, whilst exacerbating deep-rooted and historical confessional hatred.

Syrian displaced people suffer not only from an indecent official welcome but also from insufficient aid from international organisations as most of them have to survive within living conditions that are far from humane with the unavailability of shelters, basic services and medical assistance. As a result of inadequate relief assistance, and in a desperate attempt to secure minimum livelihoods, many resort to informal labour or to the setting up of small businesses, which they are inevitably forced to close, under the guise of safeguarding local businesses from competition.

Whilst Lebanese authorities remain unable to address the humanitarian crisis and this despite their repeated calls for international assistance, European and other foreign diplomats tour the various and widely scattered settlements in the country, providing basic aid through their countries’ nongovernmental organisations who have come to Lebanon en masse amidst increasing narratives of mismanagement of funds and resources. Also to be noted here is the widespread exploitation of the situation of the refugees by Lebanese nationals who thrive on the misery of their neighbours and have resorted for instance to raising the cost of rent or to the recruitment of Syrian labour at abysmal prices and so as to achieve maximum gain.

In conclusion, and following this quick overview, we feel the need to emphasise the collective responsibility born by all major political plays in the worsening overall situation in the country particularly the worrying humanitarian crisis, and calling on all those concerned to assume their full responsibility and address the serious problems carried by the displacement through political dialogue and to stop fuelling inter confessional tensions and xenophobia.