Lebanon: racism against Syrian refugees rising

250,000 refugees, equal to over 5% of Lebanese population

07 February, 18:31

(ANSAmed) - BEIRUT, FEBRUARY 7 - Competition for jobs, State expenditure on essential services and an increase in crime are common complaints about foreign immigrants, and the same are being heard with growing frequency against Syrian refugees in Lebanon. At 250,000 and rising, of the number Syrian refugees in the country is equal to 5% of Lebanon's total population. Coming to their defense, though, is the Lebanese NGO Anti-racism Movement, which is circulating a video online in which it refutes the all of the above arguments. ''Over the past few weeks,'' the movement's coordinator, Farah Salka, told the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, ''we have seen racist attitudes and incitement to hatred against refugees.

We wanted to apologise to the refugees and say that these people do not represent most of the Lebanese population''. Lebanon, with its population of about four million people, opened its borders to Syrians fleeing the violence in their country, most of whom women and children. The authorities decided not to set up camps for them (unlike Jordan, Turkey and Iraq) and therefore the refugees have been taken in by families or stay in makeshift lodgings, such as garages, factories, construction sites or abandoned schools. ''There is no political or national consensus on how to deal with refugees in Lebanon,'' underscored Minister for Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour in an interview. This problem is largely due to concerns that the arrival of such a large number of refugees, most of whom Sunni Muslims, might alter the country's equilibrium. It has been estimated that about a third of the Lebanese population are Sunni, a third Shiite and a third Christian. Clashes between Lebanese Shiite supporters of the Syrian regime - which occupied the country militarily for almost 30 years until 2005 - and Sunni opponents of it have led to a number of deaths, especially in the northern city of Tripoli. These concerns add to those of the influence of the Palestinian community and armed militias in refugee camps - an issue highlighted in another video making the rounds on the web recently - during the 1975-90 civil war which tore the country apart, leading to over 100,000 deaths and the destruction of the country's infrastructure. The subject has become almost entirely taboo but has left still visible marks on the country - such as in the faulty power and water grids, especially in the poorer areas and in sharp contrast with the luxury and consumerism of Beirut's wealthier ones. The lengthy Syrian occupation also resulted in a high level of immigration of Syrian workers, employed mostly in Lebanon's building sector. And so it is little wonder that the recent tidal wave of refugees has awakened fears never entirely quelled. (ANSAmed).

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