October 13, 2014
When Jabhat a-Nusra and the Islamic State crossed the Syrian border and launched a joint attack on Lebanese forces in Arsal last August, they intensified already existing tensions between the local population and the 1.3 million Syrian refugees inside a country of 4.3 million people.
Nusra and the Islamic State’s executions of three captured Lebanese soldiers in September subsequently ignited a wave of backlash against Syrian refugees in Lebanon that has ranged from public humiliation to murder.
Since then, the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon continues to deteriorate.
Most recently, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who recently returned to Lebanon after a self-imposed exile, said that Lebanon is “choking under the refugee crisis.”
Today, every fourth person in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee, and with few options and violence at home, they are “stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Safwan al-Khatib, a Tripoli-based Syrian journalist, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad al-Haj Ali.
Q: What is the situation for Syrian refugees like in Lebanon after the killing of the Lebanese soldiers?
[It] ignited a movement to arrest Syrians and raised the level of sectarianism, detention and raids against Syrian refugees’ homes. However, the situation of the Syrian refugees before the killing was not any better.
Syrian children in Lebanon face an uncertain future. Photo courtesy of @eldorar1.
Q: Which groups target the Syrians?
Groups that support the Assad regime in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah, assault the Syrians, in addition to those who hate Syria in general because the Syrian army had a presence in Lebanon for 30 years.
These groups view all Syrians as members of the Islamic State. Syrians are being subjected to detention and physical assault.
Q: Where in Lebanon does this happen?
The assaults are concentrated mostly in Beirut. They also happen in neighborhoods that support the Syrian regime.
Q: What is situation for refugees in Tripoli?
The Lebanese think [all Syrians] are responsible for the kidnapping and killing of the Lebanese soldiers. It is a miracle for refugees to find jobs and if they do, they are paid very little. Sometimes employers will not give the full salary they agreed upon [after the work is done].
The Syrian refugees don’t have any access to aid except for the food cards provided by the UN, which have been reduced to 20 dollars a month. Moreover, some refugees have lost their cards because the UN is facing a deficit in resources and funding.
Q: What have reactions been to the reported agreement between the Syrian regime and Lebanese government to send some refugees back to Syria?
Under these circumstances, honestly, the refugees are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are stuck between regulations from one side and the assaults against them on the other.
I see that a good portion of refugees welcome the idea of going back to camps inside Syria, but still it is a personal point of view and does not apply to all refugees.
Q: Why does the regime want to bring the refugees back to Syria?
To prove to the world that it is the only representative of the Syrian people, and it is not the reason Syrians have been displaced.
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