Syrians in Lebanon
|1,196,560 estimated (April 2015)
1,011,366 registered (December 2016)929,624 registered (July 2019)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Beirut (Greater Beirut), Tripoli, Sidon, Baalbek|
|Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, French|
|Sunni Islam and Christianity|
Syrians in Lebanon refers to the Syrian migrant workers and, more recently, to the Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon during the Syrian Civil War. The relationship between Lebanon and Syria includes Maronite-requested aid during Lebanon's Civil War which lead to a 29-year occupation of Lebanon by Syria ending in 2005. Following the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, refugees began entering Lebanon in 2011. Lebanon's response towards the influx of refugees has been criticized as negative, with the Lebanese government leaving them undocumented and limited and attacks on Syrian refugees by Lebanese citizens which go unaddressed by authorities. Despite the strained relationship between the Syrians and Lebanese, taking into consideration only Syrian refugees, Lebanon has the highest number of refugees per capita, with one refugee per four nationals. The power dynamic and position of Syria and Lebanon changed drastically in such a short amount of time, it is inevitable that sentiments and prejudices prevailed despite progressions and changes in circumstance.
From the years of 2011-2016 there was an influx of over 1.5 million refugees from Syria to the neighboring country of Lebanon. Attempting to aid this number of people on top of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees from the past, created further economic and politic destruction for the country. Economically, Lebanon was overspending on the 1.5 million people who arrived since 2011. Politically, the Lebanese felt the need to choose a side in the Syrian war. In hopes to eliminate these issues, in 2016 the Lebanese government who has never had border laws created a border law banning people from entering the country without proper documentation (Gonzalez).
While both Lebanon and Syria were under Ottoman rule until 1918, what was then known as Mount Lebanon became home to Maronite Christian and Druze minorities who immigrated from all over the region, including modern day Syria. These religious differences, as well as the relative isolation due to the mountainous terrain, accompanied with the fact that Mount Lebanon maintained a self-governing status in the Ottoman Empire, were some of the main factors that led to the division of the two countries under the French Mandate from 1923, following a period of uncertainty in the region.
After both Lebanon and Syria gained independence from the French in the 1940s, they maintained their own autonomy (although Syria did not officially recognize Lebanon's independence until 2008) until 1976 when Syria occupied Lebanon as part of the Arab Deterrent Force under the premise of resolving the dispute of the Lebanese civil war. Although Taif Accord was signed in 1989, putting an official end to the civil war, Syrian forces remained in Lebanon. Syria's role in Lebanon changed over the years of the civil war from an intervention to an occupation. After the Taif Accord was signed, Syrian forces remained in Lebanon under the justification of Israel's failure to withdraw, as per the accord. AN estimated 35,000 (by the year 2000) Syrian troops remained in Lebanon. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon lasted until 2005. During the Syrian occupation, the government under Hafez al-Assad, extending to Bashar al-Assad after 2000, the Syrian government carried out infringements of human rights, including the detonation of Lebanese citizens in Syrian-occupied Lebanon without trial and torturing them without rights for legal council. In light of those who went missing during, what the Human Rights Watch described as, a "terror campaign" of censorship and fear inflicted on the Lebanese citizens, a negative sentiment to develop within the Lebanese population against Syria.
Following the end of the Syrian occupation, many Syrians have immigrated to Lebanon in search of work and better living standards. Movement between the two countries was relatively easy as an ID card was enough to cross the border.
As a result of the civil war in Syria commencing in 2011, between the government of President Bashar al‑Assad and rebel groups, refugees began entering Lebanon in large numbers, and quickly. This sudden influx of refugees has resulted in the overpopulation of existing camps and cities as well a drain on resources. This sudden and urgent circumstance lead to tension between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees. The Lebanese government did not make an attempt to account for these refugees, it instead blocked aid to them in a passive dissent to their immigration. Border crossing restrictions were issued for Syrians crossing into Lebanon, this only lead to the movement of asylum seekers shifting to illegal smuggling.
According to the UNHCR, there were over 1 million Syrian refugees who had been registered in Lebanon in 2016. Nevertheless, this figure is likely largely underestimated since the UNHCR has stopped registering new Syrian refugees since May 2015 and it doesn't include individuals awaiting registration. Hence, precise figures of the number of Syrian people in Lebanon don't exist currently. Recent estimates were as high as 1,500,000 people.
As of 30 November 2018, the official distribution of registered refugees is as follows:
|Location||Population||% of total Population|
Of the registered refugees, 55.6% are between the ages of 0-17.
Along with Syrians, the influx of refugees due to the conflict includes 35,000 Lebanese returnees and 31,502 Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Given the estimated population of Lebanon at 5.9 million, the 1.5 million Syrian refugees make Lebanon the country with the highest number of refugees per capita – with 1 refugee for every 4 nationals. Syrian refugee statistics documented by the UNHCR were ordered to cease in 2015 by the Lebanese government, the reason behind this is uncertain.
Most Syrian refugees rent apartments, partly due to the absence of formal refugee camps. More than 80% of them rent accommodation in 1700 locations countrywide at an average price of $200 a month. The rest of them – who's percentage keeps increasing due to the deepening vulnerability – had to settle in unfinished buildings, garages, abandoned sheds, work sites and tents in informal settlements.
Naturalization and Syrians
Excessive restrictions were placed on Lebanese citizenship due to the importance of the countries demographic in running political operations. However, Armenian and Assyrian refugees came to Lebanon in 1915 from present-day southeastern Turkey, following the Armenian and Assyrian genocide. And when Lebanon was formed after Ottoman rule subsided, these Armenians and Assyrians were given citizenship to Lebanon. Also, under the Syrian-occupied Lebanon in 1994, the government naturalized over 154,931 foreign residents, of Palestinian (mostly Palestinian Christians) and Syrian (mostly Syrian Sunnis and Christians) descent. The purpose of these naturalization was to sway the elections to a pro-Syrian government. This allegation is based on how these new citizens were bused in to vote and displayed higher voting rates than the nationals did.
On June 1, 2018, the notoriously anti-naturalization Lebanese president, Michel Aoun signed a naturalization decree granting citizenship to a reported 300 individuals. These individuals come for various backgrounds and religions, however all of them are in one way wealthy and have ties to Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
Although the majority of Syrians in Lebanon are Arabs (including Palestinians residing in Syria), there exists various ethnic and religious minorities, namely Syrian Armenians, Syrian Turkmen and Syrian Kurds.
This group consists of descendants of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from Palestine during the 1947–1949 Palestine war to Syria, and then from Syria to Lebanon because of the [[Syrian civil war]] that started in 2011. These Palestinians have been met with favor from existing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In January 2015, more Palestinians refugees were recorded to be in Syria than in Lebanon, including the already existing refugees preceding 2011, although in light of the European Migrant Crisis, the numbers have allegedly dropped with many fleeing to Europe and a few to Lebanon.
In October 2015, the Syrian independent newspaper Zaman Al Wasl reported that 125,000 to 150,000 Syrian Turkmen refugees arrived in Lebanon, now outnumbering the Turkish minority of Lebanon. Many of them settled in the small village of Kaweishra known for its Turkish identity. The Turkish government has previously sent out food aid specifically for Turkmen refugees in Lebanon.
Following the unification of Syria and Egypt in 1958 which resulted in strong Arab nationalism, oppressive measures were taken against Kurds in Syria. This led to a wave of Syrian Kurds resettling into Lebanon. More recently, due to the influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war, a large number of Kurds sought asylum in Lebanon where there was already a significant and well-integrated Kurdish population, despite being underrepresented. Estimates vary on the exact number of Kurdish asylum seekers due to the fact that they are legally registered no differently than Arab Syrians, though some sources estimate the number to be as high as 500,000, almost half of all documented Syrian refugees.
Due to the strong support of Armenian institutions and communities in Lebanon, Syrian Armenians have had a relatively smooth integration in Lebanese society. This includes the fact that almost all Syrian-Armenian children are able to study for free in Armenian schools in Lebanon and have an integrated and parliament-represented foundation to rely on. Most sources estimate the number of the displaced population at around 10,000 people.
The Lebanese government has historically maintained an open-door policy towards Syrian refugees despite the absence of formal obligation. The UNHCR states that the Lebanese government has never signed the 1951 Refugee Convention which secures a refugee who belongs "to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." Therefore, there exists no international laws which Lebanon must abide by in dealing with the refugees. Adhering to the convention would mean that Lebanon was obligated to provide asylum to refugees and grant refugees the right to access courts, elementary education, and travel documents. Moreover, the refugees are entitles to receive the same public services and treatment in the labor market that Lebanese citizens do. Therefore, when faced with a large quantity of Syrian refugees entering Lebanon, the government had the ability to carry out its goals, which were to return those refugees back to Syria and discourage permanent residence.
Although Syrian refugees began entering Lebanon in 2011, it was not until 2014 that the government began introducing policies regarding Syrian refugee immigration. During the three year open-border policy, an estimated 1.5 million Syrians fled to Lebanon without defined policy or legal framework, leaving many of them with limited options . It is arguable that the establishment of policies regarding Syrians immigrating to Lebanon in 2014 was directly aimed at reducing the number of Syrians migrating to Lebanon, and driving them to return to Syria due to the difficult circumstances. In 2018 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanese President Michel Aoun united with the intention "to accelerate [Syrian Refugees] return home".
Hostility and prejudice
The 29-year-old Syrian occupation of Lebanon created negative sentiment in the Lebanese people towards Syrians. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Syrian armed forces detained, without trial, thousands of Lebanese citizens, many of who not only remained arrested, but were transported to Syrian prisons in violation of international law. Coupled with the kidnapping and assassination of critics to the Syrian regime, what HRW described as a terror campaign, resulted in the Lebanese press censoring any sentiments against Syrian policies in Lebanon. In July 1991 forty supporters of Michel Aoun were arrested in Kesrouan for handing out leaflets that criticized President Hrawi, another fifty-eight were arrested after holding demonstrations in Ashqout to name a few instances. The families of the detained reported that as well as denying legal council and family visitation rights, Syrian forces tortured those imprisoned. This mistreatment of citizens by the Syrian forces only ended as recently as 2005, allowing almost 6 years only before a forced integration of Syrians equivalent to one fourth of the population. The resentment towards Syria is disputed amongst political parties, often debating whether diplomatic and commercial relations between Lebanon and Syria should even be considered.
Negative sentiment from the Lebanese public is not limited to the negative history. In June 2016 a series of deadly suicide bombings occurred in al-Qaa saw causing 5 deaths. This was responded to with raids of refugee camps resulting in 100 arrests, after-which only three people were persecuted, two of which were Syrians with links to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). This was a factor leading up to the implementation of curfews in refugee camps. The response to these attacks was negativity to Syrian refugees despite the fact that public deceleration that those charged with the bombing were not refugees. In July of the same year, at least 200 people gathered in Beirut to march against racism towards Syrian refugees. From the ministry of foreign affairs to the interior ministry under the banner "all against racism" demonstrators were met by negative comments by Lebanese citizens due to them supporting Syrian refugees. The willingness to believe that the Syrian refugees bring
There is also a fear of a spillover of the Syrian Civil war into Lebanon which makes citizens unwilling to act as hosts. As early as 2012, the religious fractions that drove the civil war in Syria began to spark assault rifle shootings in open roads and demonstrations including burning tires against the governments willingness to appease Damascus.
The precedent of refugees in Lebanon are the Palestinians. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was a significant presence in Lebanon and operated in Palestinian refugee camps. From 1968 onward, they carried out military operations against Israel, who would retaliate by conducting raids against Lebanese villages, bringing chaos and destruction to Lebanon. In 1970, following their expulsion from Jordan, the PLO's presence in Lebanon increased and the control they had over parts of the country became more significant. Clashes with the Lebanese army and Christian militias occurred, leading to the involvement of other Lebanese parties and foreign powers that supported the Palestinians, ultimately escalating into the civil war that Syria used to occupy Lebanon. In light of the events, it is not unreasonable for citizens and politicians to be weary of what refugees bring with them, providing a camp could lead to an outcome such as that of Palestinian camps, which are still not under Lebanese jurisdiction to this day.
Despite the reasoning and rationality for any prejudice, the outcome has been alleged and documented mistreatment of Syrian refugees by authorities, through unwarranted arrest, and civilians.
Refugees in Lebanon
Refugees in Lebanon
Fleeing to Lebanon in 1948 following the Arab-Israel War and having nowhere to return to till present day, as of January 2015, there were 452,669 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. 2010 saw a sudden migration of Palestinian Refugees to Europe from Lebanon, contributing to the European migrant crisis. Palestinian refugees fleeing from Lebanon to European countries has been argued to be a consequence of the migration of Syrian refugees in such large bulk reducing the standard of life and overshadowing them in funding. Palestinian refugees were not welcomed easily, the 1951 Refugee convention was not signed, at least in part, to avoid responsibility of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and for Lebanon to maintain the autonomy to decide the actions the government wishes to take regarding displaced persons.
Armenian and Assyrian refugees came to Lebanon in 1915 from present-day southeastern Turkey, following the Armenian and Assyrian genocide. At the time, Mount Lebanon was a Mutasarrifate within the Ottoman Empire that held a unique self-governing status. The Armenian and Assyrian refugees found it as a safe haven given its semi-autonomous state and because of the religious beliefs that they shared with the majority. When Lebanon was formed after Ottoman rule subsided, these Armenians and Assyrians were given citizenship to Lebanon, they are represented in the parliament and have integrated into society in Lebanon.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon
As the numbers of Syrians in Lebanon have grown, so have tensions; the attitude towards reception of Syrians in Lebanon quickly became opposed to. The influx of Syrians into Lebanon has resulted in economic, political, social and religious tensions in Lebanon. Curfews have been put into place in some cities and villages to ensure public safety following attacks on police and members of the military by religious Syrian extremist groups. Many Lebanese citizens fear that there is a possibility of Syrian Civil War spillover in Lebanon, especially after Syrian Sunni Muslim extremist groups executed of Lebanese soldiers in August 2014 as part of the Battle of Arsal.
In the 2017 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) Lebanon makes clear the rights it maintains in light of the influx of Syrian 'refugees',
The UN characterizes the flight of civilians from Syria as a refugee movement, and considers that these Syrians are seeking international protection and are likely to meet the refugee definition. The Government of Lebanon considers that it is being subject to a situation of mass influx. It refers to individuals who fled from Syria into its territory after March 2011 as temporarily displaced individuals, and reserves its sovereign right to determine their status according to Lebanese laws and regulations.— Government of Lebanon, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017–2020 [EN/AR]
Lebanon maintains its position as not being a state for refugees despite the Palestinian and Armenians residing in the country as displaced individuals. Syrians seeking shelter have been met with a "no camp" policy from the government which lead them to rent cheap land and even rooms in previously existing Palestinian refugee camps.
The large majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are Sunni Muslims.
Returning to Syria
With Bashar al-Assad regaining support and control, refugees have begun returning to Syria, both individually and with the aid of Damascus. Lebanon urges refugees to return to Syria, claiming that they are unable to accommodate 25% of its population in refugees. The UNHCR advises against the return of Syrian refugees under the circumstances in Syria, this was responded to by a freeze on residency applications for UNHCR staff This approach has led to the argument that Lebanon is beginning to 'force' refugees back to Syria despite the potential danger of doing so.
The Lebanese government and NGO's provide assistance to the displaced refugees. Medair, a Swiss NGO, provides aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon through various means. Housing is supported through distribution of shelter kits and improvements of living conditions for the refugees who have found a place to stay; healthcare, mapping, and hygiene also fall under the contributions of Medair to refugees in Lebanon. Caritas Lebanon is another NGO that aids refugees under the Catholic Church. Providing resources in the form of settlements to over 100 families of Syrian refugees in Lebanon; Caritas navigated the Lebanese governments not permitting formal refugee camps by providing materials that could be added to existing structures to create shelter for the refugees.
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