Syrian refugees face growing xenophobia in Lebanon as economic crisis worsens
Politicians and the media blame Lebanon's economic woes on refugees, despite international organizations pointing at the financial elite as the cause of the manufactured crisis
By News Desk - July 21 2022

FILE – A displaced Syrian man and his son ride a motorcycle between the tents at a refugee camp, in Bar Elias, in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, 5 March, 2021. (Photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla, File)

Three years into Lebanon’s severe economic crisis, xenophobic sentiment against the presence of one and a half million Syrian refugees is growing, with government officials and media personalities openly calling for the removal of refugees.

The economy of Lebanon has been in freefall since 2019, crushed by a crisis so severe that the World Bank described it as the world’s worst in 150 years.

A year later, the country was faced by a devastating explosion at its main port, which destroyed large swathes of the capital Beirut.

In the face of this crisis – caused in large part by corruption among the country’s elite – officials have announced plans to begin repatriating 15,000 Syrian refugees every month.

“This is a humane, honorable, patriotic, and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon,” Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of the Displaced, said earlier this month.

Most recently, a presenter for Lebanon’s Al-Jaded TV, Dalia Ahmed, launched an on-air tirade urging Syrian refugees to go back to their country

“Unfortunately, there is nothing left to share with you other than immigration … It is not appropriate for the Lebanese people to migrate and [for you to stay here],” the anchor told refugees on 15 July.

These public calls come despite strong condemnation from human rights organizations against the forced deportation of refugees.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have slammed Beirut for their repatriation plan, saying it constitutes a clear breach of Lebanon’s obligation of non-refoulement — the international law that forbids the compulsory repatriation of refugees.

HRW has also pointed out that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will not be involved in the planned deportations.

Charafeddine has previously asked the UNHCR to suspend assistance to refugees selected for return.

Beirut’s plan also ignores the fact that nearly 60 percent of Syria’s 21 million people are food insecure, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Speaking at a conference in the Belgian capital back in May, Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar claimed that the presence of Syrian refugees has cost Beirut $30 billion.

However, Hajjar presented no official documentation to back his claim, as the massive figure is likely based on the cost of the Syrian war as a whole on the Lebanese economy.

Another source of contention against the refugees is the claim that they receive international aid in US dollars.

But UN figures show that over half of registered Syrian families receive their aid in Lebanese lira, and that it is actually the banks making the payments – Banque du Liban (BDL) and Banque Libano-Française (BLF) – who are keeping these US dollars in their vaults.

Earlier this year, the UN accused the Central Bank of Lebanon of “human rights violations” for creating the conditions for the country’s acute economic crisis.

“The economic crisis was entirely avoidable; indeed, it was manufactured by failed government policies. The country has a political establishment plagued by conflicts of interest with a banking sector and a central bank (Banque du Liban) that are largely unaccountable,” the extremely critical report reveals.

At the center of this manufactured crisis stands Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, a man who has continuously evaded justice despite facing charges of embezzlement, money laundering, and abuse of influence in Switzerland, Britain, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands, and Lebanon.

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