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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Easter message

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit