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

Special Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
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Syrian children eat together from a pan on the floor of a tent at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the town of Zahle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on January 26, 2018. (AFP/File photo)
Special Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
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Faced with extreme poverty and mounting hostility, many displaced Syrians in Lebanon see onward migration, as their only option. (AFP/File photo)
Special Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
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Syrians refugees prepare to leave Lebanon towards Syrian territory through the Wadi Hamid crossing in Arsal on October 26, 2022, the first step in a new repatriation plan slammed by rights groups. (AFP/File photo)
Special Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
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Supporters of the Lebanese Forces attend the funeral of Pascal Suleiman, a party coordinator in the Byblos (Jbeil) area north of Beirut, on April 12, 2024. Sleiman was killed on April 8 in what the Lebanese army said was a carjacking by Syrian gang members, who took his body to Syria. (AFP)
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Updated 19 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 Abou 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 Abou 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 Abou 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 Abou 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 Abou 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.”
 

 


Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
Updated 19 May 2024
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Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
  • The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call: UKMTO
  • The incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia launched an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Red Sea on Saturday morning, striking an oil tanker traveling from Russia to China, according to US Central Command, the latest in a series of Houthi maritime strikes. 

CENTCOM said that at 1 a.m. on Saturday, a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile struck a Panamanian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated oil tanker named M/T Wind, which had just visited Russia and was on its way to China, causing “flooding which resulted in the loss of propulsion and steering.”

Slamming the Houthis for attacking ships, the US military said: “The crew of M/T Wind was able to restore propulsion and steering, and no casualties were reported. M/T Wind resumed its course under its power. This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

Earlier on Saturday, two UK naval agencies said that a ship sailing in the Red Sea suffered minor damage after being hit by an item thought to be a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia from an area under their control.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors ship attacks, said on Saturday morning that it received an alarm from a ship master about an “unknown object” striking the ship’s port quarter, 98 miles south of Hodeidah, inflicting minor damage.

“The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in its notice about the incident, encouraging ships in the Red Sea to exercise caution and report any incidents.

Hours earlier, the same UK maritime agency stated that the assault happened 76 nautical miles northwest of Hodeidah.

Ambrey, a UK security firm, also reported receiving information regarding a missile strike on a crude oil tanker traveling under the Panama flag, around 10 nautical miles southwest of Yemen’s government-controlled town of Mokha on the Red Sea, which resulted in a fire on the ship.

The Houthis did not claim responsibility for fresh ship strikes on Saturday, although they generally do so days after the attack.

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk another, and claimed to have fired hundreds of ballistic missiles at international commercial and naval ships in the Gulf of Aden, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Red Sea in what the Yemeni militia claims is support for the Palestinian people.

The Houthis claim that they solely strike Israel-linked ships and those traveling or transporting products to Israel in order to pressure the latter to cease its war in Gaza.

The US responded to the Houthi attacks by branding them as terrorists, forming a coalition of marine task forces to safeguard ships, and unleashing hundreds of strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.

Local and international environmentalists have long warned that Houthi attacks on ships carrying fuel or other chemicals might lead to an environmental calamity near Yemen’s coast.

The early warning came in February when the Houthis launched a missile that seriously damaged the MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship carrying 22,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate-sulfate NPS fertilizer and more than 200 tonnes of fuel while cruising in the Red Sea. 

The Houthis have defied demands for de-escalation in the Red Sea and continue to organize massive rallies in regions under their control to express support for their campaign. On Friday, thousands of Houthi sympathizers took to the streets of Sanaa, Saada, and other cities under their control to show their support for the war on ships.

The Houthis shouted in unison, “We have no red line, and what’s coming is far worse,” as they raised the Palestinian and militia flags in Al-Sabeen Square on Friday, repeating their leader’s promise to intensify assaults on ships.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni government soldier was killed and another was injured on Saturday while fending off a Houthi attack on their position near the border between the provinces of Taiz and Lahj.

According to local media, the Houthis attacked the government’s Nation’s Shield Forces in the contested Hayfan district of Taiz province, attempting to capture control of additional territory.

The Houthis were forced to stop their attack after encountering tough resistance from government troops.

The attack occurred a day after the Nation’s Shield Forces sent dozens of armed vehicles and personnel to the same locations to boost their forces and repel Houthi attacks. 


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
Updated 56 min 43 sec ago
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Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
  • The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
  • “Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said

CARACAS: Iran on Saturday said it will send experts to its ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators in hospitals it said had been stopped due to Western sanctions.
Venezuela requested Iran’s help, according to a message on the social media platform X by the Iranian government attributed to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said.
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients.
Venezuela is also an ally of Russia and China.
The return of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry has made its alliance with Iran critical to keeping its lagging energy sector afloat. Washington last year temporarily relaxed sanctions on Venezuela’s promise to allow a competitive presidential election. The US now says only some conditions were met. 

 


Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
  • Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said

BUCHAREST: Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said.
The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.
The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.
After receiving an alert at “around 4:00am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.
The cause of the accident was unclear.
According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat for ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.
Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
 

 


Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
  • A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s lawmakers failed to elect a speaker on Saturday as neither of the two main candidates secured a majority during a tense session of parliament.
It is the latest in a series of failed attempts to replace the former head of parliament who was dismissed in November, with political bickering and divisions between key Sunni parties derailing every attempt so far.
Saturday’s vote was the closest yet to selecting a new head of the 329-member parliament, with 311 lawmakers showing up for the session and the leading candidate falling just seven votes short.
The parliament’s media office announced that 137 lawmakers chose Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, the oldest MP, while 158 picked Salem Al-Issawi.
However, candidates require at least 165 votes to win.
Many lawmakers did not return for a second attempt on Saturday, with local media sharing videos of a brief brawl between MPs and reporting that at least one of them was injured.
The parliament’s media office then announced that the session had been adjourned.
Iraq, a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, is governed by complex power-sharing arrangements.
The largely ceremonial role of president traditionally goes to a Kurd, that of prime minister to a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is usually Sunni.
But parliament is dominated by a coalition of pro-Iran Shiite parties, reflecting the country’s largest religious group.
A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc.
The new speaker will replace Halbussi, the influential politician dismissed by Iraq’s top court in November last year after a lawmaker accused him of forging a resignation letter.
Halbussi had been the country’s highest-ranking Sunni official since he first became a speaker in 2018.
The new speaker’s stint will not last long with the general election due in 2025.