Does Lebanon want to build a wall to separate refugees?
One must pay particular attention to the possible implications to how the refugee community within Lebanon, and worldwide, is viewed
While the world celebrated International Day for Solidarity with Palestinians on Friday November 25, thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh camp grew anxious about their future. Earlier in the week, the Lebanese authorities began to build a wall on the western part of the camp, which is home to 70,000 refugees in what seems to be part of a “security measure.”
One must pay particular attention to the possible implications to how the refugee community within Lebanon, and worldwide, is viewed. The Palestinian community within Lebanon is largely made up of refugees who fled during the first diaspora in 1948, and now their decedents. In total, there are 450,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, making up a total of 10 per cent of the population of the country, according to the United Nations. What seems to be a collective definition of a community of 70,000 people as a “security threat” sends a dangerous message to the public. This wall is sure to make the refugee community feel alienated even further, and for the general public to justify any negative feelings they may have.
More importantly, what is the exact reasoning behind building the wall – are Palestinians really seen as such a serious security threat that they must be sidelined and collectively imprisoned with a concrete structure? How is this wall being financed, and what benefit will it actually bring to either the Palestinians in the camp, or those who live outside of the camp? The answers to these questions are unclear, as very limited statements have been made about the wall. However, what is known is that collective punishment of 70,000 people will almost certainly provoke anger and frustration, and may well be the reason why within days, the building of the wall was “paused.”
If the recent refugee crisis has taught the world anything it is that as human beings, we are all vulnerable to changes in politics, the environment and culture, and our lives can change within daysYara al-Wazir
It is understandable that the Lebanese army is trying to maintain security within the camp; after all it is their job. It is time that the authorities stop using the word “security” as a scapegoat excuse for an active effort to sideline the refugee community – building walls will not make the problems go away, only building bridges can do that. Without an official statement to explain the purpose of this wall, and without an official statement to explain why the building was paused, whether or not it will resume, and if it will resume, when, the Palestinians within Ain al-Hilweh camp and the other 11 refugee camps in the country cannot be blamed for feeling anxious, angry, and alienated.
Putting politics aside– what will the world look like fore refugees in 2030? As the world transcends into the “sharing” economy, it seems that people want to share services but not responsibilities.
Looking back just ten years, who would have guessed or estimated that there would be more than 10 million Syrian refugees scattered around the world? If the recent refugee crisis has taught the world anything it is that as human beings, we are all vulnerable to changes in politics, the environment and culture, and our lives can change within days. Be it refugees of war or refugees of climate change, the struggle is real. Increasingly, it feels that the host countries are treating individuals are threats, rather than questioning the system that dehumanized them and made them refugees.
For the past week, I too have been anxious about the future of the Ain al-Hilweh camp. When the very state acknowledges that it sees an entire population of a camp as a potential security threat, one must wonder why it hasn’t done anything to contain this threat before, what has made this part of the population a security threat (70,000 people is an incredibly large number), and that surely there must be more effective ways to deal with a security threat rather than to build a wall. Perhaps getting to the root cause of security threats, understanding motivations and driers, and providing education and opportunities to distract from these drivers and offer a method to positively contribute to the economy would go miles further in combatting potential security threats than a concrete wall. Without getting to the root cause of why people are angry and building walls of alienation, it will only provoke people further and instigate further negative sentiments that will impede development.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir