The issue of inciting violence against Syrian refugees has once again resurfaced in Lebanon, with several political parties spearheading campaigns to force their deportation. However, some political forces and international organizations still reject this matter and consider the conditions for their safe return unavailable. As a result, warnings have been issued to the Syrian-Lebanese communities, particularly in light of suspicious and anonymous calls urging refugees to demonstrate in front of the UNHCR, in exchange for calls from Lebanese demanding their deportation.
Over the past two weeks, Lebanese security services have intensified the forced deportation of Syrian refugees, with more than 70 refugees returned to areas controlled by the Syrian regime. Information suggests that the General Security Agency is handing over the violating detainees to the army’s land border regiment, which is responsible for placing them outside Lebanese borders.
While Lebanese authorities attempt to shed the burden of asylum, they have neglected other critical issues such as unresolved bank deposits and justice for victims of the Beirut port explosion. This blatant disregard for the country’s crises is concerning.
Conflict of interest
On Wednesday, the Lebanese government held two meetings to discuss the Syrian refugee issue, with President Najib Mikati and ministers from the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, and the Future Movement in attendance, along with security service leaders. The meeting resulted in the launch of several positions and decisions described as “escalatory” due to their harsh and unrealistic nature. This government stance appears to have political motives, including the pursuit of greater financial assistance and reducing the IMF’s reform conditions.
Some municipalities have also taken decisions aimed at imposing their authority on refugees within their geographic boundaries, including the recent call from the municipality of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon for Syrians residing in the area to register their names with the municipality registry. This process began on Wednesday and will continue until next Friday. It requires refugees to provide identification papers for all family members, lease contracts, if any, registered with the General Security, driving books, and registration papers.
According to Dr. Muhannad Hajj Ali, a researcher at the Carnegie Center, the sudden escalation of political and media campaigns against Syrian refugees serves a clear political purpose. The primary goal is to avoid an anticipated economic and social explosion due to the country’s financial bankruptcy, which could lead to increased racism and extortion by Lebanese and Syrian authorities seeking to secure international and regional gains and concessions.
Dr. Hajj Ali acknowledges the urgent need for serious solutions to the Syrian refugee crisis. However, he notes that addressing the issue appropriately remains a significant challenge. This is due to the systematic displacement of Syrians at the onset of the war, which was part of a broader policy adopted by the Syrian regime and its allies, regardless of international consideration, resulting in one of the largest demographic displacement and ethnic cleansing processes.
Furthermore, the rise of racist sentiments towards refugees is not confined to Lebanon but is also present in campaigns in Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union, driven by multiple religious and ethnic dimensions.
Restoring popularity and counting on Assad
Researcher Rabii Dandashli argues that Christian parties in Lebanon, who failed to elect a president after the parliamentary elections, are seeking to regain popularity by inciting against Syrian refugees. This rhetoric resonates at the popular level, as many still blame refugees for the country’s crises, and some politicians have been highlighting “Muslim density” and the influx of Sunni refugees following the financial collapse.
According to Dandashli, this campaign is linked to internal factions that use the Syrian refugee issue for political gains. They are closely monitoring the regional dynamics and the Arab openness towards the Assad regime, as well as the Gulf conditions for the return of refugees. They hope to secure a seat for themselves at the regional settlement table, leveraging the refugee crisis, despite Hezbollah’s involvement in the war on the regime’s side, which contributed to displacement and asylum.
Dandashli believes that Christian parties are waiting for the Syrian regime to take security steps and make internal reconciliations, which would improve relations with the Gulf countries. They may then demand the return of some refugees, but this is unlikely to happen without adequate humanitarian guarantees. Overall, Lebanon is part of the Syrian refugee crisis, and a long-term solution requires a comprehensive regional settlement that addresses the root causes of displacement and ensures safe and voluntary return.
Political goals: floating Frangieh or the army chief?
The recent campaign to raise the issue of forced deportation of Syrian refugees coincides with the discourse of the “resistance” forces related to linking the candidacy of Suleiman Frangieh for the presidency of the Republic in Lebanon, according to government and parliamentary sources. Frangieh opened the campaign on asylum from the pulpit of the Maronite Patriarchate a few days ago, stating that he is the most capable of solving the crisis by being a friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that the return of refugees needs to be coordinated with the military presence of Hezbollah in Syrian territory.
The sources suggest that the rhetoric of the Aounist movement and Assad’s allies to hold the army responsible for the security handling of the deportation of refugees aims to embarrass army commander Joseph Aoun (presidential candidate) locally and internationally, especially in light of the Western and European position on the government’s engagement and plans to return Syrians unsafely. They believe this aims to show Aoun as responsible for a humanitarian disaster that contradicts international laws.
However, researcher Muhannad al-Hajj Ali disagrees with this view and believes that both sides are playing on a political and populist chord. He suggests that what happened may be a message from the army commander of Hezbollah and the regime that they are capable of returning refugees to Syria.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.