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Lebanon exporting refugees and its own sons

Lebanon does not belong to its people, considering the rising number of Lebanese emigrants and the increasing number of people seeking refuge in it.

Nayla Tueni

Published: Updated:

A report by An-Nahar newspaper last week said Lebanon exports Syrian refugees to foreign countries via Turkey. A day before the report was published, European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn said: “The next big wave of illegal refugees towards Europe may be from Lebanon, the weak country [that is] witnessing a tragic situation. Developments in Lebanon worry me. The situation there is tragic to some extent.”

Hahn added that the next wave of refugees could be from Lebanon, considering that it hosts some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, most of whom live in bad conditions. However, this will not be Lebanon’s first time exporting people.

Before the Syrian crisis, Lebanon exported many of its young men due to bad living conditions, or because their freedoms were restrained due to the Israeli and Syrian occupations. Before that, the Ottoman occupation contributed to the immigration of thousands of Lebanese due to hunger, oppression and forced labor. Many drowned in the sea before reaching their destination.

Present difficulty

However, our current reality is more difficult. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was right when he said: “What’s currently happening in Lebanon is a process of replacing Lebanon’s people with other people, Syrians, Palestinians and others.”

Lebanon does not belong to its people, considering the rising number of Lebanese emigrants and the increasing number of people seeking refuge in it.

Nayla Tueni

Bassil said there were more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon and around 500,000 Palestinian refugees, meaning there are 2 million refugees in total, constituting half of the population of Lebanon. He concluded: “The only solution to this problem would be the return of Syrians to their homeland.”

Bassil, however, forgot about those who have no nationality, and those who have been naturalized and whose number exceeds 300,000. Those naturalized are of Syrian, Palestinian or other descent. Lebanon therefore does not belong to its people, considering the rising number of Lebanese emigrants and the increasing number of people seeking refuge in it.

Our problem with the Syrians resembles our problem with the Palestinians who came to Lebanon more than 50 years ago. Although those Palestinians have not been naturalized, they impose a reality we cannot evade, a reality that pressures security, the economy, general services and infrastructure.

The solution today is for many Syrians to return to safe areas in their country, or to help them emigrate to other countries - primarily Arab and then Western - that are able to contain them, provide for them and respect them. This is better than blaming Lebanon, which has been neglectful toward its own sons, leading many of them to escape their bitter reality.

This article was first published in an-Nahar on Sept. 28, 2015.
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Nayla Tueni is one of the few elected female politicians in Lebanon and of the two youngest. She became a member of parliament in 2009 and following the assassination of her father, Gebran, she is currently a member of the board and Deputy General Manager of Lebanon’s leading daily, Annahar. Prior to her political career, Nayla had trained, written in and managed various sections of Annahar, where she currently has a regular column. She can be followed on Twitter @NaylaTueni

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