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Refugees or Second-Time Occupiers?

Rédigé le 14/03/2013 (dernière modification le 14/03/2013)

Nine years after the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the neighboring country’s crisis lays an increasing weight on the 10452 square meters territory already ravaged by civil wars. With the millionth refugee registering with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tripoli, the situation of Lebanon now appears to be on its way back to that of the last 3 decades of the previous century.

Filling Lebanon streets! Photo (c) Ibrahim Chalhoub
Filling Lebanon streets! Photo (c) Ibrahim Chalhoub
podcast_refugees_occupiers.mp3 Podcast_Refugees_Occupiers.MP3  (633.95 Ko)

In 1976, Lebanese citizens hailed for the entrance of Syrian troops into the small country. Lebanon was suffering from civil war all around its territories as part of a larger geopolitical phenomenon involving major large powers of the world. In 2005, almost half of the citizens (numbers are not reliable) waved for the departure of their allies – some even cried when the Syrian troops left. The other half of the population appreciated their new feeling of ‘freedom’.

During about thirty years, the ‘help’ of Syria to Lebanon turned out to be a ravaging occupation affecting every facility and installing fear as a regular visitor in daily life. Economy suffered markedly. Top Syrian officers controlled the money of large institutions like the Casino Du Liban, the airport, and the ports. This was not, however, the main drainage hub of Lebanon’s economy: Syrian workers bleed dried the possibilities of the working class with lower wages coupled with minimal expenditure – they were paid in Lebanon but got their consumables from their nearby mother country.

Syrians are back to Lebanon in large numbers. However, they are fleeing a crisis with thousands of casualties. It is noticeable, as indicated by local media, that most of the poor families come to the north of the country, which is already on its way down in economic and financial terms. People of this region react differently to the large influx of Syrians, but many are now seriously complaining.

“We named our school ‘We Are Returning Back’ to remind Syrian students as well as their parents that they are visitors here no matter how much we care about them and help them”, Sheikh Ayash Ahmad told Podcast Journal. Sheikh Ayash is the director of a school teaching about 500 Syrian students in Akkar, north Lebanon. “We are continuing to teach Syrian students despite many financial difficulties prohibiting us from paying the wages of teachers”, added the Sheikh. However, every paper provided to students carries the school’s name “for a daily reminder to our ‘visitors’ who are not staying here forever”, indicated Sheikh Ayash.

When some of the Lebanese governmental forces waved at capturing wounded members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) who arrived to Dar al-Zahraa hospital in Abu Samra near Tripoli, Lebanese citizens created a human barrier to ‘defend’ their Syrian ‘brethren’. This was in the summer of 2012.

On March 7, 2013, Fatma, living in the poorest area of Tripoli, started yelling when a team of journalists went in to shoot a documentary about Syrians in poverty. “Everybody comes for Syrians now. We have been living in Hay al-Tanak for decades. Nobody came to talk about us. We need help just as they do, but we needed it before ‘them’, shouted the Lebanese woman.

In another area of Tripoli, Mr. Ibrahim Mustafa was placing stickers of the Zakat House of United States (Muslim charity institution) on black bags to fill them with relief material when a number of Syrian women arrived at his store. “We have a lot of work to do. We used to provide relief to Lebanese Muslims in need, and there were large numbers. Now we are not able to insure all the help required for Syrian refugees”, indicated Mr. Mustafa, “there has been a total shift from Lebanese Muslims to Syrian counterparts”, added the man.

The increasing population is causing a serious difficulty in finding a place for living.
“People are not able to find a house for rent. Even if they do, they are not able to afford the price; it has dramatically risen with the influx of Syrians”, said Abu Mahmud, owner of a small shop in Tripoli. “Check-out the shop behind mine”, he said, “no one was willing to pay 150 US dollars for its monthly rent…now 5 Syrian families took it for 500 USD”, added the old man. A 140 square meter furnished flat is now for about 1500 USD per month, while a similar size empty apartment is not less than 700 USD worth.

“I can get at least 2 Syrians for the money I pay you”, shouted a car-repair-shop owner at his Lebanese employee who asked for a raise. “Syrian workers who used to replace the Lebanese workers during 3 decades of occupation are back”, murmured the employee who asked we do not reveal his name because “Syrians who are now refugees may make us relive the old years of their regime’s occupation of Lebanon at any time”, added the young man.

On March 11, 2013, the Lebanese president Michel Sleiman announced that the quarter of Lebanon inhabitants are refugees, which include Syrians who have been flooding into the country for about 2 years most of who are not registered with any official organization. On the other hand, Fulya Ӧzerkan of Agence France Presse (AFP) in Turkey quoted Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, saying that the numbers of Syrian refugees may reach 3 million this year. Having this in mind, will the barely 4 million Lebanese citizens hail for the return of refugees to their homes just as they did with Syrian troops in 2005, or will they cry over losing friendships they built in daily life?

Video below about the geopolitical intervention of Syria to stop the civil war in Lebanon in 1976

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