Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to Lebanon, a significant amount of the Lebanese population viewed them as a hegemonic power in the country.
Statements like “they [Syrians] have taken over the country” or “we might as well make Lebanon part of Syria” more often than not imply that Syrians have some sort of upper-hand or privilege.
The exploitation and abuse of refugees by many Lebanese is sometimes even excused or justified by reminding other citizens of Syria’s brutal occupation of Lebanon which lasted from 1976 to 2005.
This sort of victimhood, accompanied by classist tones and ethnic chauvinism, induces and empowers the bigotry of many.
Structurally, Syrian refugees are not permitted to perform most professions. This leaves them with jobs that require too much work for very little pay. It is also illegal for Syrian workers to unionize in an effective manner and challenge their grotesque working conditions.
In the north, most municipalities, local police, and military posts, impose harsh curfews that restrict the Syrian refugees’ freedom of movement all under the pretext of enforcing security measures. These often lead to abuse, arrest, or deportation.
The rationale pushed by the state is that Syrian refugees form a burden on the Lebanese economy and its resources. In addition, a popular claim is that Syrian workers are prioritized over Lebanese in employment despite many employers deliberately refraining from hiring any Syrians.
Moreover, not only are these claims taken for granted without any necessary scrutiny, but they also shape a large part of the statements of top officials in power. Activists believe that the attention directed towards Syrian refugees –a scapegoated community– comes at the expense of the government fulfilling its duties.
It is not accurate that Syrian refugees form an economic load, but the contrary is true. As part of the #AUB4Refugees initiative, Dr. Nasser Yassin, Director at the Issam Fares Institute, released a number of studies concerned with tackling the xenophobic exaggerations of the crisis’ implications.
For instance, Syrian refugees purchased around $81m worth of real estate in Lebanon in 2015. In Egypt, the total value of refugee investments have gone up to $800m since the beginning of the crisis. Besides that, refugees and their corresponding host families spend $20m on food on a monthly basis.
On the other hand, the new financial engineering operations in our central bank, enormous untaxed profits preserved by private banks, the recent signing of an unjust tax law, and an inflated real estate sector do not seem to be topics worth discussing.
In other words, it is absolutely absurd to scapegoat Syrian refugees (the human “load”) than to examine the crises developed by the top 0.5 percent of Lebanese especially some of our wealthy politicians.