(Photo of Syrian refugees in Lebanon)
Mesrob Kassemdjian reports on Lebanon’s reluctance to assist Syrian refugees.
Lebanon has a population of 4.7 million, which presently includes in excess of 960,000 registered Syrian refugees in addition to at least half a million long-term Palestinian refugees, who have been based in Lebanon since 1971. This poses acute risks to the Lebanese power-sharing confessional political system, which allots differentiated sectarian denominations specific amounts of political representation within parliament based on their contingent size and relative demographic power. A national census has not been completed in Lebanon since 1932 due to legitimate fears that it would reveal the stark disparity between demographic sizes, proportionate to political representation.
The influx of almost a million Sunni Syrians further threatens the demographic balance of power within the fragile state. It dramatically increases the relative size of the Sunni community within Lebanon. The absorption of so many individuals from one sect would necessitate a complete overhaul of the current power-sharing political system.
The influx of almost a million Sunni Syrians further threatens the demographic balance of power within the fragile state.
The government has been slow to act on the refugee issue and has since been visibly inhospitable to the multitude of Syrians attempting to escape the civil war. Refugee camps have been set-up in an ad hoc and short term manner in order to deter any long term Syrian settlement.
The state is cautious in regards to hosting another foreign community within its territory for what could easily transpire into a prolonged period. Moreover, the government worries that should the Assad regime be victorious in Syria, many refugees would be inclined to stay in Lebanon indefinitely, rather than risk persecution upon returning to Syria.
Consequently, the inability and unwillingness of the Lebanese state to support Syrian refugees will result in increasing vulnerability and subject the refugees to sequential displacement. This will increase the antagonism between the Lebanese host community and Syrian refugees, as well as creating latent social cleavages which have the potential to trigger future civil unrest. The Syrian conflict has already spilled over into Lebanon which, in recent months, has been subjected to shelling, rocket attacks and car bombings within its towns and major cities: notably the continuous targeting of Dahieh – the Hizbullah stronghold within the capital, Beirut. Sporadic armed skirmishes between sectarian denominations have violently broken out inside Tripoli and Sidon. The influx of Syrian refugees will heighten the societal security dilemmas, already pervasive within Lebanon, and has the capacity to rapidly develop into armed engagements within Lebanese cities.
The inability and unwillingness of the Lebanese state to support Syrian refugees will result in increasing vulnerability and subject the refugees to sequential displacement.