Lebanon has cause for shame in its treatment of Syrian refugees

They are beaten in the immigration queues and cheated with exorbitant rents

Share

I stopped to buy walnuts in Sidon last week from a sunburned man sitting on the pavement of the old souk. Like the walnuts – soft, almost creamy inside their iron-hard husks – he came from the Syrian town of Bloudan.

In years gone by, I would take the steam train from the old Haj station in Damascus up to Bloudan and Zabadani, the loco so slow that passengers could sometimes jump out of the carriages to pick fruit and then clamber back aboard. Bloudan was a kind of forested spa, all soft-flowing streams and water melons and crude cement houses and big posters of Hafez al-Assad, the dictator father of Bashar. There were Palestinian training camps in these hills and a regional headquarters for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – Lebanon was only eight miles away – and the smugglers’ trails ran from Bloudan and Zabadani across the Anti-Lebanon range into the Bekaa Valley.

Bloudan is a Christian town – Zabadani is largely Sunni – and they have been on the front lines of Syria’s war; those old smuggling trails now help to bring the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, swelling now to 1.3 million, of whom at least 780,000 have been registered by the UN. This means that one in four of the people of Lebanon are now Syrians. It feels like it, too. The poor beg in the streets of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre, the rich cut in front of me in their smart cars with registration plates showing they come from as far away as Raqqa and Deir ex-Zour and Deraa. A few of the vehicles boast bullet holes – as so many Lebanese cars did during the 1975-90 civil war – and almost half the people I meet in an average day in Beirut are Syrians.

They work on the building sites in the side street outside my home.

Two years ago they all supported Bashar. Then the poorer labourers proclaimed the Free Syrian Army as their heroes and the supervisors turned out to be pro-regime “mukhabarat” intelligence agents.

Now the rebel faction on the building sites is silent – no Islamists they – while the pseudo-cops keep their mouths shut. The wealthy Syrians have moved into swish apartments downtown. I sometimes find that when I travel from Beirut to Damascus at the weekend, half the Syrians I want to see are not in Damascus at all. They are spending the same weekend in Beirut.

There is cause for much shame in this massive influx of refugees. When the Lebanese fled to Syria during their civil war, they were treated with great care by the regime. Now the Lebanese resent the huddled masses from the east. They are beaten in the immigration queues, cheated with exorbitant rents and, in some towns (Christian, I am sorry to say), told to stay off the streets after 8pm.

Christian Palestinians from Damascus are living in penury in one-room shacks in the only Christian Palestinian refugee camp in Dbayeh. The Sunni Palestinians from Syria have fetched up in the hovels of Sabra and Chatila to exchange their stories of horror with the tales of massacre and savagery visited upon their Palestinian brothers and sisters of this forsaken Lebanese camp at the hands of Israel’s cruel allies 31 years ago.

And it’s not hard to see why Najib Mikati, the outgoing “ghost” Prime Minister in the equally ghostly Lebanese government, is now talking of “investigating” each Syrian arrival to discover if they meet “the legal conditions of a refugee” – whatever that is – and the implications are obvious: those who have arrived in Lebanon to gather support for the Damascus regime or for the Syrian resistance will be chucked out.

Easier said than done. Lebanese ex-general Michel Aoun’s crackpot and largely Christian “Free Patriotic Movement” wants the border closed; and since Mr Aoun supports Bashar al-Assad – and since most refugees in Lebanon are anti-Assad Sunni Muslims – you can see why Mr Aoun wants the frontier blocked.

But there are deeper concerns, which afflict both the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Force, the only two viable institutions in Lebanon: that the great refugee camps spreading down the Bekaa valley might turn into miniature Ein el-Helwehs.

Ein el-Helweh is the vast Palestinian camp in Sidon whose 100,000 (or more) refugees are crammed into slums controlled by armed Palestinian militias which operate outside the law of Lebanon. Subjected to the country’s oppressive work restrictions, the Palestinian factions include Hamas and the PLO – but also Islamists, a faction of al-Qa’ida and members of Muslim groups wanted for their part in a Salafist insurrection in northern Lebanon six years ago.

A cancer in the body politic, as far as Lebanon is concerned; a pit of hopelessness for the 100,000 whose lands in Palestine were seized by the new Israeli state in 1948.

But the Lebanese army now fears that the blossoming Syrian camps in the Bekaa will yield the same, bitter fruit: armed groups supporting both the impoverished Free Syrian Army and the ever-more-powerful Sunni Muslim al-Nusra front and al-Qa’ida affiliates who are fighting to “liberate” Syria from Assad’s government.

The Lebanese cannot afford to let the cities of Syrian refugee tents turn into armed camps outside the sovereignty of Lebanon, run by Syrians carrying their own weapons outside the law.

But can the Lebanese prevent this infection when Syrian suffering is on such a scale? On Saturday night I found three Syrians – two of them only 14 years old – selling white roses on the Beirut Corniche near my home.

Amir came from the Damascus suburb of Douma a year ago. His right leg had been torn off by a shell. Hadi and Hani were  brothers from Hama. Hadi’s hand had been amputated by a shell fragment eight months ago. Only Hani was untouched. I bought  a white rose. Three Syrians, only one complete.

From the same report: Further proof emerges of Turkey's genocide.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits