Lebanese politician’s murder ignites persecution of Syrian refugees

Long-standing tensions between Lebanon’s authorities and communities against its Syrian refugee minority are threatening to boil over, following the murder of Christian-based Lebanese Forces politician, as reported by Arab News and agencies on April 17.

Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator for the Lebanese Forces party, was kidnapped and murdered on Syrian territory near the Lebanese border.

The attack is widely believed to have been carried out by seven Syrian nationals, who have since been imprisoned.

However the attack was initially attributed to Hezbollah, as it took place on the Iranian-backed group’s territory.

READ: Lebanon: Seven Syrians nabbed for Pascal Suleiman murder

The incident has exacerbated anti-Syrian hostility in Lebanese society.

Haneen, a Syrian university student referred to here by a pseudonym for her safety, recounted her witnessing of a Syrian man being assaulted by a group of Lebanese men to Arab News.

“The slaps were so loud, I felt as if they were falling on my face”, she said, adding that the group labelled the man “Souri” (Syrian).

With over 1.5 million Syrians, Lebanon has the highest concentration of Syrian refugees in the world, following the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

In a country deeply divided by sectarian issues – whether Sunni or Shiite, Christian or Muslim – xenophobia against Syrians has become a rallying point for a disconnected society.

And Haneen’s experience is not an isolated event.

Many Syrians have been subjected to random attacks in the streets by supporters of Suleiman’s political party, with mobs vandalising cars with Syrian license plates and businesses.

In addition, videos circulated on social media where Lebanese men appear to threaten Syrians, giving them a 48-hour ultimatum to leave their homes and businesses.

Between April and May 2023, the Lebanese army also initiated a brutal crackdown, arresting and deporting thousands of Syrians, according to Human Rights Watch.

Life in Lebanon for Syrian refugees is set to be tougher in the face of mounting intolerance, apparently endorsed at the government level.

Bassam Mawlawi, the acting interior minister of Lebanon, announced that the country “will become stricter in granting residency permits and dealing with (Syrians) residing in Lebanon illegally”, claiming that “many crimes are being committed by Syrians” in a press conference recently.

According to Mawlawi, the “Syrian presence in Lebanon can no longer be tolerated and is unacceptable”.

The Lebanese government has come under fire for blaming the country’s many woes on its Syrian minority, stirring persecution through harmful rhetoric.

Karam Shaar, a senior fellow of a Washington-based think tank Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, described Lebanese politicians as embodying “hysteria” over its Syrian community and exploiting them as convenient scapegoats for the country’s issues.

Omar Al-Ghazzi, associate professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics, recognises that the refugees “made long-standing economic problems worse, whether in terms of infrastructure, public services and unemployment, particularly as Lebanese leaders stand accused of making financial profit from international aid.

Shaar similarly acknowledges the pressure, saying “Lebanon’s economy is actually struggling, and yet the number of Syrians is on the rise – just from natural increases. So, the problem that Lebanon faces is real.”

However both Shaar and Al-Ghazzi emphasise the need for a long-term solution for the plight of Syrians in Lebanon.

Approximately 90 percent of Syrian households are living in extreme poverty, with 80 percent “illegal” residents.

According to Shaar, there needs to be “a concerted effort to actually address [the crisis] because otherwise, my main worry is that there will be more xenophobic rhetoric and attacks against Syrians.”

Relations between Lebanon and European Mediterranean countries have grown warmer over the question of refugees, with the EU voicing hope that Lebanon will agree to an anti-migration agreement in the near-future.

Amid increased Syrian refugees arriving in Cyprus, the country decided to suspend Syrian asylum applications and called on the EU to grant “substantial” support to Lebanon in a bid to reduce migration.

READ: Surge in Syrian migrants leaving Lebanon for Cyprus

Meanwhile, Syrians face reduced access to healthcare, education, and employment, making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse without any legal protection.

“Sadly, it is marginalized and vulnerable Syrians who are paying the price of this politics. In Lebanon, they face daily acts of discrimination, humiliation and violence as they have to confront bleak prospects whether they stay in Lebanon, attempt illegal migration to Europe, or go to Syria” Al-Ghazzi said.

Arab News / Agencies


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

[mc4wp_form id="206"]