Syria’s Assad’s ruling party office shut by protests in rebellious Druze city

Syria’s Assad’s ruling party office shut by protests in rebellious Druze city
In this photo released by Suwayda24, people hold placards during a protest in the southern city of Sweida, Syria, Saturday, Aug 26, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 28 August 2023
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Syria’s Assad’s ruling party office shut by protests in rebellious Druze city

Syria’s Assad’s ruling party office shut by protests in rebellious Druze city
  • The rising dissent in loyalist areas that once stood with Assad now pose the biggest challenge to his hold on power after winning a more than decade-long civil war with crucial help from Russia and Iran

AMMAN: Protesters demanding an end to authoritarian rule shut the ruling Baath party headquarters in the southwestern Syrian Druze city of Sweida as protests which entered their second week showed no signs of abating, civic activists and witnesses said.
Youths with welding machines sealed the gates of the building of the party led by President Bashar al Assad, which has been in power since a 1963 coup.
Hundreds again took to the streets for the seventh consecutive day of peaceful protests over worsening living conditions caused by steep gasoline prices and they demanded sweeping political changes.
“Step down Bashar, we want to live in dignity,” they chanted in the main square where Druze top spiritual leaders have given their blessing for their protests without endorsing calls for an end to five decades of Assad family rule.
A major economic crisis has seen the local currency collapse, leading to soaring prices for food and basic supplies and which Assad’s government blames on Western sanctions.
The rising dissent in loyalist areas that once stood with Assad now pose the biggest challenge to his hold on power after winning a more than decade-long civil war with crucial help from Russia and Iran.
Officials have heightened security in Mediterranean coastal areas, the ancestral homeland of Assad’s minority Alawite sect that holds a tight control over the army and security forces, to preempt growing calls to strike and protest about living conditions, said Kenan Waqaf, a prominent journalist who was imprisoned for criticizing the authorities.
Across the province, scores of local branches of the Baath party whose officials hold top government posts were also closed by protesters with its cadres fleeing, residents said.
In a rare act of defiance in areas under Assad’s rule, protesters tore down posters of Assad, where the party has promoted a personality cult around him and his late father.
Sweida, a city of over 100,000 people, has seen most public institutions shut and public transport on strike and businesses partially open, residents and civic activists said.
“This is civil disobedience that is unprecedented and draws wide societal support from a large section of the Druze community and its religious leaders,” said Ryan Marouf, a civic activist and editor of the local Suwayda 24 news website.
The authorities have kept silent about the widening protests but instructed the security apparatus to stay out of sight and even vacated some checkpoints to avoid friction, officials privately said.


Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’
Updated 4 sec ago
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Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’
  • The Islamic republic carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend
  • Top envoy: Iran communicated with Washington ‘before and after’ launching its attack on Israel
TEHRAN: Iran’s top diplomat said Thursday his country has told the United States that it is not seeking escalation after an unprecedented attack on Israel.
The Islamic republic carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend. The barrage — to which Israel’s army chief has vowed a response — was retaliation for an April 1 air strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus. Iran blamed Israel for the consular attack.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who is in New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting, said his country has “tried to tell the United States clearly” that Iran is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region,” he said in a video posted by his ministry.
Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, but neutral Switzerland represents Washington’s interests in Iran. Both the US and Iran have alluded to the Swiss role as an intermediary.
According to Amir-Abdollahian, Iran communicated with Washington “before and after” launching its attack on Israel.
Iran informed the United States that the decision by the Islamic Republic of Iran to “respond to the (Israel) regime is final,” and the matter concluded, he said.
Iran’s retaliation against Israel left a girl severely wounded but caused little damage. It followed the strike in Damascus that killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including two generals.
“Before the operation, we clearly told the American side that we will not target American bases and interests in the region,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
The Islamic republic has celebrated the attack as a success but President Ebrahim Raisi warned of “a fierce and severe response” to further “aggression” by Israel.
During his trip to New York, Amir-Abdollahian is set to meet United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his counterparts from other countries.
The United States, Israel’s top ally, has said it would soon impose new sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone program following the strike on Israel, and said it expects allies to take parallel measures.
The US and other allies helped Israel intercept the Iranian strike.

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief
Updated 18 April 2024
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Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief
  • Philippe Lazzarini tells Security Council demise of agency would also accelerate onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize transition from a ceasefire to recovery
  • Meeting of the council requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israel to force the agency out of Gaza and have it dismantled entirely

NEW YORK CITY: Disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees would have lasting repercussions for millions of Palestinians because it would result in them being stripped of their refugee status, the head of the agency told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Philippe Lazzarini warned it would also accelerate the onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize the eventual transition from a ceasefire to recovery by depriving a traumatized population of the essential services it requires.

Some of the ramifications would be long term, he added: “It will make impossible the formidable task of bringing half a million deeply distressed girls and boys back to learning. Failing to deliver on education will condemn an entire generation to despair, fueling anger, resentment, an endless cycle of violence.”

The meeting of the council was requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israeli authorities to force the agency out of Gaza, and have it dismantled entirely.

It began with a minute’s silence in honor of the 178 UNRWA employees killed during the war in Gaza.

The agency has been facing great challenges not only in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but also in ensuring it is able to continue its operations more generally.

More than 163 UNRWA installations in the Gaza Strip have been damaged during the war between Israel and Hamas, and only nine of its 24 healthcare facilities remain operational.

Meanwhile, the agency has been in a precarious financial position for some time, in part because of the decision by some major donor nations to suspend the funding they provide for the agency, which threatened to bring its operations grinding to a halt.

Several countries put their donations on hold after Israeli authorities alleged in January, without providing any supporting evidence, that 12 UNRWA workers had played a role in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

The agency terminated the contracts of the employees identified in the allegations, and the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN’s main investigative body, launched an inquiry at the request of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Separately, the UN also ordered an independent review, led by the French former minister of foreign affairs, Catherine Colonna, of the steps the agency takes to uphold the principle of neutrality among its workers. The review group is expected to present its findings on April 20.

Lazzarini told council members on Wednesday that the real reason behind the Israeli calls for UNRWA to be closed down is not about its adherence to humanitarian principles, it is an attempt to end the refugee status of millions of Palestinians. The true aim is to change the long-standing political parameters for peace in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he added.

“Accusations that UNRWA has deliberately perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status are false and dishonest,” Lazzarini said. “The agency exists because a political solution does not. It exists in lieu of a state that can deliver critical public services.

“The international community has long attempted to contain, rather than resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lip service is paid to the two-state solution each time an escalation occurs, costing lives and hope.

“UNRWA was created 75 years ago as a temporary agency, a stop-gap measure, pending a political answer to the question of Palestine.

“If the international community truly commits to a political solution, UNRWA can retrieve its temporary nature by supporting a time-bomb transition, delivering education, primary healthcare and social support. It can do so until a Palestinian administration takes over the services.”

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, called on the Security Council to consider, as a matter of urgency, imposing sanctions on Israel for its failure to implement the council’s recent ceasefire resolution.

“Everyone knows about the facts, the unthinkable statistics, the number of people dead and those in need of urgent food and medical assistance, as well as reported cases of people dying of famine and dehydration, including minors,” he said.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is blocking half of humanitarian convoys, yet aid supplies are waiting at the border. We warned time and time again that in the absence of a lasting, sustainable ceasefire, which must be duly monitored by military observers, all of our humanitarian efforts are doomed.”

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said the conflict in Gaza has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of the number of aid workers killed, with the total standing at more than 240 since Oct. 7.

“These incidents are unacceptable. Humanitarian personnel must be protected, full stop,” he said, and he expressed deep concern that “Israel has not done enough to protect humanitarian aid workers or civilians.”

Wood added: “UNRWA plays a crucial role throughout the region, contributes to stability of the region and supporting Palestinian refugees, to educating hundreds of thousands of students, to providing primary healthcare and critical relief and social services.

“UNRWA is the bedrock of support for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. The United States supports this important work and emphasizes that it must continue uninterrupted.”


Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief
Updated 19 min 54 sec ago
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Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief
  • Philippe Lazzarini tells Security Council demise of agency would also accelerate onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize transition from a ceasefire to recovery
  • Meeting of the council requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israel to force the agency out of Gaza and have it dismantled entirely

NEW YORK CITY: Disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees would have lasting repercussions for millions of Palestinians because it would result in them being stripped of their refugee status, the head of the agency told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Philippe Lazzarini warned it would also accelerate the onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize the eventual transition from a ceasefire to recovery by depriving a traumatized population of the essential services it requires.

Some of the ramifications would be long term, he added: “It will make impossible the formidable task of bringing half a million deeply distressed girls and boys back to learning. Failing to deliver on education will condemn an entire generation to despair, fueling anger, resentment, an endless cycle of violence.”

The meeting of the council was requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israeli authorities to force the agency out of Gaza, and have it dismantled entirely.

It began with a minute’s silence in honor of the 178 UNRWA employees killed during the war in Gaza.

The agency has been facing great challenges not only in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but also in ensuring it is able to continue its operations more generally.

More than 163 UNRWA installations in the Gaza Strip have been damaged during the war between Israel and Hamas, and only nine of its 24 healthcare facilities remain operational.

Meanwhile the agency has been in a precarious financial position for some time, in part because of the decision by some major donor nations to suspend the funding they provide for the agency, which threatened to bring its operations grinding to a halt.

Several countries put their donations on hold after Israeli authorities alleged in January, without providing any supporting evidence, that 12 UNRWA workers had played a role in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

The agency terminated the contracts of the employees identified in the allegations, and the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN’s main investigative body, launched an inquiry at the request of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Separately, the UN also ordered an independent review, led by the French former minister of foreign affairs, Catherine Colonna, of the steps the agency takes to uphold the principle of neutrality among its workers. The review group is expected to present its findings on April 20.

Lazzarini told council members on Wednesday that the real reason behind the Israeli calls for UNRWA to be closed down is not about its adherence to humanitarian principles, it is an attempt to end the refugee status of millions of Palestinians. The true aim is to change the long-standing political parameters for peace in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he added.

“Accusations that UNRWA has deliberately perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status are false and dishonest,” Lazzarini said. “The agency exists because a political solution does not. It exists in lieu of a state that can deliver critical public services.

“The international community has long attempted to contain, rather than resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lip service is paid to the two-state solution each time an escalation occurs, costing lives and hope.

“UNRWA was created 75 years ago as a temporary agency, a stop-gap measure, pending a political answer to the question of Palestine.

“If the international community truly commits to a political solution, UNRWA can retrieve its temporary nature by supporting a time-bomb transition, delivering education, primary healthcare and social support. It can do so until a Palestinian administration takes over the services.”

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, called on the Security Council to consider, as a matter of urgency, imposing sanctions on Israel for its failure to implement the council’s recent ceasefire resolution.

“Everyone knows about the facts, the unthinkable statistics, the number of people dead and those in need of urgent food and medical assistance, as well as reported cases of people dying of famine and dehydration, including minors,” he said.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is blocking half of humanitarian convoys, yet aid supplies are waiting at the border. We warned time and time again that in the absence of a lasting, sustainable ceasefire, which must be duly monitored by military observers, all of our humanitarian efforts are doomed.”

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said the conflict in Gaza has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of the number of aid workers killed, with the total standing at more than 240 since Oct. 7.

“These incidents are unacceptable. Humanitarian personnel must be protected, full stop,” he said, and he expressed deep concern that “Israel has not done enough to protect humanitarian aid workers or civilians.”

Wood added: “UNRWA plays a crucial role throughout the region, contributes to stability of the region and supporting Palestinian refugees, to educating hundreds of thousands of students, to providing primary healthcare and critical relief and social services.

“UNRWA is the bedrock of support for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. The United States supports this important work and emphasizes that it must continue uninterrupted.”


Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
Updated 18 April 2024
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Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
  • Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield”

AMMAN: Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Wednesday an Israeli retaliation against Iranian strikes could bring a real risk of dragging the whole region into a devastating war.
In an interview released by state media, Safadi said his country was lobbying major powers against an escalation that would have far-reaching consequences for regional stability and security.
“The risks are enormous. That could drag the whole region into war, which would be devastating to us in the region and we’ll have very, very serious implications for the rest of the world including the U.S,” Safadi said.
“The situation is too dangerous. The chances of regional explosion are real, and that has got to stop. We’ve got to make sure there’s no further escalation,” he added.
Staunch US ally Jordan, with the help of American air defenses and support from the UK and France, shot down most of the Iranian drones and missiles that were flying over the country toward Jerusalem and a wide range of targets in Israel.
“Now the pressure should be on Israel not to escalate,” Safadi said, adding Tehran had said it attacked in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 and would not go further unless Israel responded.
Jordan neighbors Syria and Iraq – both countries where Iranian proxy forces operate – and is next door to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank
“We are in the middle of the fire, so both parties have to understand that we’ll do what we have to do to protect our own, and to prevent this escalation,” Safadi said.
Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield.”
“We will take down any projectiles that threaten our peoples and violate our sovereignty, and pose a threat to Jordanians. And we made this clear to both Israel and Iran,” he said.
Iranian drones that came from the direction of Iraq and flew over southern Jordan and the city of Aqaba that were heading to Israel’s Eilat port were also intercepted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was using the confrontation with Iran to divert attention from Gaza, Safadi said. The Israeli leader should not be allowed to drag “Washington and major Western powers into a war with Iran,” he added.


Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
Updated 18 April 2024
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Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
  • Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, placing additional strain on its economy 
  • The recent murder of a Lebanese Forces party official has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against Syrians 

LONDON: Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in an impossible fix, unable to safely return home while also facing mounting hostility from host communities and local authorities, especially following the death of a Lebanese Forces party official, allegedly at the hands of Syrian criminals.

Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based party, was reportedly kidnapped and later killed in a Syrian area near the Lebanese border. Seven Syrian nationals were arrested on suspicion of killing Suleiman in what was dubbed a botched carjacking.

The killing of Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based Lebanese Forces party, is being blamed on Syrians but party leaders are not convinced. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Lebanese Forces and its allies were not fully convinced that Syrians were behind the killing, which took place in an area controlled by its Hezbollah rivals, suggesting that Lebanese authorities were using the Syrians as a convenient patsy.

Although the scapegoating of Syrians in Lebanon has been commonplace since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, dispersing millions of refugees throughout the region, the murder of Suleiman has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against displaced households.

INNUMBERS

90% Syrian households in Lebanon living in extreme poverty.

52% Live in dangerous, sub-standard or overcrowded shelters. 80% Lack legal residency, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

100k Resettled from Lebanon to third countries since 2011.

Haneen, a Syrian university student whose name has been changed for her safety, described recently witnessing a group of Lebanese men assaulting and hurling abuse at a man they labeled “Souri” (Syrian). 

“The slaps were so loud, I felt as if they were falling on my face,” she told Arab News.

Videos have emerged on social media in recent days showing Lebanese Forces supporters venting their fury on random Syrians in the street — many of them refugees. Angry mobs also vandalized cars with Syrian license plates and looted Syrian-owned businesses.

People march in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli on April 28, 2023, to protest against the forcible deportation of Syrian refugees. (AFP/File)

Other videos showed Lebanese men on motorcycles roaming the streets in various parts of the country, including Keserwan and Burj Hamoud, where they ordered Syrian occupants to leave their homes and businesses within 48 hours.

Intercommunal tensions in Lebanon have been stoked further by the rhetoric of Lebanese politicians, who frequently blame the country’s many ills on the presence of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Infographic courtesy of Access Center For Human Rights (ACHR)

Between April and May 2023, the Lebanese army arbitrarily arrested and deported thousands of Syrians, according to Human Rights Watch.

Infographic courtesy of Access Center For Human Rights (ACHR)

In a recent press conference, Bassam Mawlawi, the acting interior minister, said the country “will become stricter in granting residency permits and dealing with (Syrians) residing in Lebanon illegally.”

He claimed that “many crimes are being committed by Syrians” and stressed that the “Syrian presence in Lebanon can no longer be tolerated and is unacceptable.”

In October last year, he even sought to portray Syrian refugees as a danger to the country’s “existence” and “a threat to Lebanon’s demographics and identity.”

Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi speaks during a press conference on April 9, 2024, about the killing of local politician Pascal Suleiman on April 9, 2024. Lebanese officials blamed Syrian refugees, but leaders of the Lebanese Forces party were unconvinced. (AFP/File photo)

Echoing these sentiments was Abdallah Bou Habib, the acting foreign minister, who during a visit to the Greek capital Athens on April 8 described the number of Syrians in Lebanon as “a problem.”

Just days before Suleiman’s death, Amin Salam, Lebanon’s economy minister, said the caretaker government should declare a “state of emergency” regarding Syrian refugees.

Karam Shaar, a senior fellow at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, said Lebanese politicians were showing signs of “hysteria” over the Syrian presence in Lebanon.


ALSO READ: Lebanon PM warns Syrian refugees pose ‘danger to the nation’


While “part of that is understandable and fair,” Shaar told Arab News that “part of it is just Lebanese politicians scapegoating their failures and pinning them on Syrians.”

Omar Al-Ghazzi, an associate professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics, acknowledged that the influx had “made long-standing economic problems worse, whether in terms of infrastructure, public services and unemployment, particularly as Lebanese leaders stand accused of making financial profit from international aid.

“However, rather than blaming leaders and the political system for the collapsed economy in Lebanon, it became a convenient narrative to blame Syrians.”

Lebanese demonstrators clash with security forces during a protest demanding better pay and living conditions in the capital Beirut on April 18, 2023 amid deteriorating living conditions, as the currency plummeted to new lows against the dollar. (AFP/File photo)

Furthermore, he told Arab News: “Sunni-Shiite tensions during the Syrian war, and Christian fears of Muslim dominance, have made any discussion of Syrian refugees take the form of a toxic and violent discourse — as if anti-Syrianness is the one thing that the divided Lebanese could agree on.”

Anti-Syrian sentiments in Lebanon did not first emerge with the influx of refugees after 2011. They have far deeper historical roots. 

“Since Lebanon’s independence, Lebanese political culture has sustained a sense of superiority over the country’s Arab neighbors, mainly Palestinians and Syrians, as well as a sense of being threatened by their presence and influence,” said Al-Ghazzi.

“Following the end of the Lebanese civil war, the hegemony of the Syrian regime in Lebanon exacerbated an anti-Syrianness that often took the shape of discrimination against Syrian laborers.”

Tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens pack Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut on March 14, 2005, to press demands for justice for assassinated former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and for an end to Syrian military domination of Lebanon. (AFP/File photo)

However, Al-Ghazzi believes “this renewed racism cannot be separated from the rise of fascism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the West that gives legitimacy to nationalist chauvinism on a global scale.

“Sadly, it is marginalized and vulnerable Syrians who are paying the price of this politics. In Lebanon, they face daily acts of discrimination, humiliation and violence as they have to confront bleak prospects whether they stay in Lebanon, attempt illegal migration to Europe, or go to Syria.”

The arrival of Syrian refugees over the past decade has placed a burden on Lebanon’s already stretched services and infrastructure.

Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, according to Lisa Bou Khaled, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Lebanon.

“UNHCR fully recognizes the impact this is having on the country, notably while it is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history, pushing the most vulnerable to the brink,” she told Arab News.

Likewise, Shaar of the Newlines Institute said: “Lebanon’s economy is actually struggling, and yet the number of Syrians is on the rise — just from natural increases. So, the problem that Lebanon faces is real.”

He stressed the need for “a systemic solution to this crisis — a concerted effort to actually address it because otherwise, my main worry is that there will be more xenophobic rhetoric and attacks against Syrians.”

In the last five years, Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 98 percent of its value, according to the World Bank. The spillover from the ongoing war in Gaza has also dealt a major blow to the country’s stability.

AFP infographic showing the extent of the depreciation of the Lebanese lira as of early 2021. A recent report of the World Bank says Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 98 percent of its value in the last five years. 

To make matters worse, funding for UN agencies to assist displaced communities is drying up fast amid the world’s multiple, overlapping humanitarian emergencies. 

According to Bou Khaled, “in 2024, UNHCR and the World Food Programme are able to assist 88,000 fewer refugee families than in 2023 with cash and food assistance, reflecting a 32 percent decrease in the number of beneficiaries.”

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are among the most vulnerable populations, with approximately 90 percent of households living in extreme poverty and 80 percent lacking legal residency.

In this picture taken on June 13, 2023, Syrian children play between tents at a refugee camp in Saadnayel in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. (AFP)

Jasmin Lilian Diab, director of the Institute for Migration Studies at the Lebanese American University, said that “depriving Syrian refugees of proper documentation not only violates their fundamental human rights but also exacerbates their vulnerability.

“Without legal status, refugees face barriers accessing essential services such as healthcare, education, and employment, further marginalizing them within Lebanese society,” she told Arab News.

“This lack of documentation also increases the risk of exploitation, abuse, and detention, leaving refugees without legal recourse or protection. More recently, this has made them increasingly vulnerable to deportation amid ongoing raids and crackdowns.”

For Bou Khaled of UNHCR, housing is also a major concern. “More than half of the Syrian population (52 percent) live in dangerous, sub-standard or overcrowded shelters with the worst/most dangerous conditions reported in Mount Lebanon, (the) south and Beirut,” she said.

Syrian refugees salvage belongings from the wreckage of their shelters at a camp set on fire overnight in the northern Lebanese town of Bhanine on December 27, 2020, following a fight between members of the camp and a local Lebanese family. (AFP/File photo)

In March, a huge fire broke out in a Syrian refugee camp in Wadi Al-Arnab in the northeastern town of Arsal. The inferno, reportedly caused by an electrical fault, devoured more than 36 makeshift tents.

The fire was only the latest in a series of similar incidents to befall this vulnerable population. A similar blaze occurred in Hanine in Bint Jbeil District during a heatwave in July 2023, while another broke out in October 2022, reducing 93 tents to ashes.

Those living in rented accommodation are hardly better off. Average monthly rents in Lebanese pounds have “increased by 553 percent in 2023; from LBP 863,000 in 2022 to over 5.6 million LBP in 2023,” said Bou Khaled.

For Syrian refugees, unable to live under these circumstances but too frightened to return home, where they might face arrest, persecution, or conscription by the regime or one of the country’s armed factions, the most practical way out seems to be onward migration.

Displaced Syrians leave Lebanon towards Syrian territory through the Wadi Hamid crossing in Arsal on October 26, 2022. (AFP/File photo)

“UNHCR does not hinder the return of refugees to Syria,” said Bou Khaled. The UN agency “is also actively working to support durable solutions for Syrian refugees, including resettlement to third countries, and return to Syria.”

She added: “Resettlement allows responsibility sharing and show of solidarity with host countries like Lebanon, supporting large refugee populations.” This, however, “depends on quotas UNHCR receives by resettlement countries.

“Overall, since 2011 and up to the end of 2023, about 100,000 refugees have been resettled from Lebanon to third countries. In 2023, there was a 9.25-percent increase in resettlement departures when compared to 2022, and the highest number recorded since 2017.”

For many Syrians in Lebanon, onward migration through legal routes is out of reach. Hundreds have instead resorted to making the dangerous sea journey to the EU’s easternmost state, Cyprus, which is a mere 160 km from Lebanon.

Caption

Earlier this month, Cyprus expressed concern over the sudden surge in arrivals of Syrian refugees from Lebanon. With more than 600 Syrians crossing in small boats, the island’s reception capacity has reached breaking point, Reuters reported.

Shaar suspects “the number will only increase going forward as the situation becomes worse and worse” in Lebanon.

Diab of the Institute for Migration Studies at LAU said that “while sea journeys to Europe may seem like the only option for some Syrian refugees in Lebanon, safe alternatives do exist in theory — albeit a much slower process that many refugees cannot afford to wait for.”