Since the time of the Civil War, Lebanon has been suffering at the hands of the Syrian regime. Owing to a lack of patriotism on the part of several political players, Syria has been able to create divisions and deepen sectarian rifts in Lebanon. Killings as bombings have also been a hallmark of their activities in Lebanon. Syrian troops left Lebanon after the popular uprising that followed the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and several anti-Syrian figures like Samir Kasir, Jibran Tweini, George Hawi, Pierre Gumayel and so on. Now that the Syrian regime is killing and repressing its people, Lebanon is facing another dilemma: huge numbers of Syrian refugees whose number according to official statistics has so far reached 200,000 yet is actually estimated at 400,000.
There is no doubt that as Syria opened its borders to the Lebanese during the 2006 Israeli aggression, it is Lebanon’s humanitarian duty to receive Syrian refugees. However, the issue is much more complicated. The Lebanese government is not fulfilling several of its duties towards the Lebanese people and this includes electricity, job opportunities, and stable wages. Misery is rampant in Lebanon. There are lots of families that are unable to buy a power generator or secure medical care for their children and elderly. Some ministers in the government refused erecting tents to house refugees for a certain time until they can go back because they are haunted by the specter and Palestinian refugee camps and are concerned that refugees will stay.
However, Syrian refugees are not similar to their Palestinian counterparts. The Syrian regime is not going to stay and Syria will be reconstructed after this regime is toppled. But the government then decided to approve the erection of tents, which were donated by several countries like Saudi Arabia and Norway. Yet, matters are still complicated in Lebanon to the extent that some officials told al-Hayat that they have been trying to get tents that arrived in November from the harbor till now.
The situation of the refugees is undoubtedly disastrous. Al-Hayat visited a camp in the Bekaa called “reception center” established by Saudi aid. The camp houses around 18 families who live in tents in the midst of freezing cold. According to Emad Shamouri, the mayor of the town of al-Marj, where the camp is located, families that have nowhere else to go come to the town and are provided with blankets, food, and electricity until they can find another place. According to Shamouri, refugees usually leave the “center,” which he said is intentionally not called a refugee camp, to look for other places to live. A Syrian citizen had asked the mayor to help him find a job when al-Hayat was visiting the camp. The problem is that this uncontrolled flow of refugees into Lebanon, similar to what occurs in Turkey and Jordan, drives the newcomers to head to Beirut and major Lebanese cities to look for jobs and some of them take to begging. Many Lebanese workers are now complaining that Syrians are taking their jobs, especially as the latter offer cheaper labor. Bakeries, construction sites, and parks are now full of Syrian workers. Some say that this is a conspiracy while others warn of an imminent disaster with the rise of crime rates following mass migration of Syrian refugees. Even though there is a problem in Lebanon and the Lebanese are growing more concerned especially with the government unable to meet their basic needs, the entire matter is undoubtedly exaggerated.
Plan in need
We need an organized Arab plan for helping Syrian refugees. Lebanon also needs direct support and not one offered through an inefficient government that keeps procrastinating and delaying. The Kuwait donors’ conference needs to work on that as fast as possible because immediate action is needed. Western aid is also urgently needed and Western countries need to coordinate with Arab countries so that this aid reaches its destination fast through an independent relief agency that is known for its integrity. Lebanon needs help to deal with the burden of the Syrian crisis and to help Syrian refugees who are currently living in deplorable humanitarian conditions.
This article was published on al-Hayat newspaper on Jan. 23, 2013
Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris.