As many as 1.5 million Syrian refugees have fled death and destruction engulfing their homeland by crossing into Lebanon. Their presence has drawn more hostility from Lebanese since the country’s economic crisis came to a head in 2019.
While observers blame the political elite for years of corruption and mismanagement and for now impoverishing most of the population with its policies, the same political class is scapegoating the refugees to deflect from its own responsibilities, said Lebanese analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib. The governing apparatus includes the Iran-backed Hezbollah political party and its onetime ally, former President Michel Aoun, and his Free Patriotic Movement.
“How can they divert this anger? They divert it to the refugees," Khatib said. "The narrative that is so populist against the refugees is mainly coming from Hezbollah, the Aoun people: They are costing so much, they are causing trouble, they are a burden on the economy and they have to go. But the U.N. is supporting the education system because they want these refugee kids to go to school. The aid that is coming is also aiding host communities.”
Observers argue there is a false impression that Lebanese must compete with Syrians for resources and that refugees get lots of money from relief organizations.
Khatib, president of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building in Beirut, told VOA that Lebanese politicians may be using the refugee situation as a pawn. She characterized governing authorities' position as: “If the international community doesn’t do what we want, if you put sanctions on us, we will create a problem for these people knowing they can’t go to [Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad.”
Observers note that Syrian refugees face dire living conditions in Lebanon and although many would like to leave, they fear returning home because of retribution by Assad’s leadership, which considers them traitors.
Meanwhile, rights groups reported in recent weeks an increase in anti-refugee rhetoric from Lebanese politicians. They allege such misinformation contributes to violence and discrimination against Syrian refugees.
Ramzi Kaiss, the Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper that an alarming rise in anti-refugee rhetoric has accompanied forced deportations, which he believes is “part of the strategy to create a coercive environment in order to get refugees to leave the country.”
The Access Center for Human Rights in Beirut says that the military recently conducted many raids to apprehend and deport 336 Syrian refugees who entered the country irregularly. The center is a nongovernmental organization monitoring conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Lebanese analyst Khatib told VOA that international refugee law requires a voluntary, safe and dignified return of all refugees.