Lebanon needs help in tackling refugee crisis

Lebanon was growing at an average rate of nine per cent for four years before the war broke out in Syria.

 Christiane Waked

Published: Sun 7 Jul 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 Jul 2019, 10:26 PM

It has been nine years since the beginning of the Syrian war - almost a decade that has brought misery to the Syrian people, and forced 6.7 million to become refugees. Of this, around two million took refuge in Lebanon.
With a population of about four million, Lebanon hosts the greatest concentration of refugees per capita in the world (more than 40 per cent of the demographic mass of Lebanon). Needless to say, this has created an overwhelming pressure on the country's resources, utilities, and potential.
Take the economic growth rate of the country, for instance. Lebanon was growing at an average rate of nine per cent for four years before the war broke out in Syria. Since 2011, the Lebanese economy has been sluggish, clocking a growth rate of one per cent.
More than half of the Lebanese citizens are unemployed, and some political parties are exploiting this fact to steer anti-refugee sentiment among the population. There is resentment among the population at the lack of opportunities and resources.
The country is yet to heal from the past 24 years of domination of Syria that ended in 2005 with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
Since the 1970s, more than 650 Lebanese have been kidnapped and put in Syrian jails without any trial. Their families are still awaiting answers, and their return.
Today the Lebanese population is divided. Some harbour anti-refugee sentiments, and others are sympathetic towards the refugees as their plight is a reminder and a reflection of their own civil war trauma that uprooted many from the homeland.
Both the Lebanese and the Syrians are victims of a situation that is way beyond their control. However, the politicians and some sections of the media are exploiting the situation for their own agendas.
I think it is time for everyone to change the narrative and stop emphasising on the differences that are opposing Lebanese and Syrians.
Lebanese painter and activist, Semaan Khawam, each year donates gains made from some of his paintings to help associations that aid Syrian refugees. Khawam told Khaleej Times: "Some Lebanese politicians are using the refugee card for their political agenda, but this doesn't reflect what is going on the ground where many Lebanese are using various platforms including art to help the refugees."
Like Khawam, there are many individuals and collective initiatives to help the refugees.  Zoukak, the collective theatre, for instance, conducts regular theatre workshops offering art therapy to the refugee population in and outside the camps in Lebanon.
Maya Zbib, theatre director, writer and performer, founding member of Zoukak, explains: "The main purpose of these workshops is to bring people from different social and religious backgrounds together to share their stories, experiences, skills in a way that helps them heal together."
So, the Western, Arab, and the Lebanese media and governments should find solutions instead of passing the buck. It is time to use wise and well-chosen words to change the course of the narrative and help both the Lebanese and Syrian refugees manage their cohabitation.
It is also a good time to remind the West that it is rather easy to stand on a pedestal, lecture and patronise other host countries like Lebanon while they do not assume any part of the responsibility towards the refugee crisis. Some Western countries, in fact, have contributed more in worsening the war in Syria.
Germany, on the other hand, is the only Western country to have accepted a sizeable number of refugees.
There are many countries that have been impacted by the war in Syria, just like Lebanon. And it is important that they are helped and relieved of this burden. Healing scars on a smaller scale can help bring the communities together.
Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut

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