‘Personal Agendas’ Exacerbate Tension Between Lebanese, Displaced Syrians
Xeber24.net – Asharq Al-Awsat
Videos leaked on social media over the last week showed masked men beating Syrian refugees and destroying their properties in the town of Arsal in northern Bekaa. These images, along with calls through social networking sites to protest against the Syrian presence, have sparked controversy among the Lebanese public opinion.
In Arsal, more than 60,000 Syrian refugees are concentrated in 126 camps under harsh living conditions exacerbated by winter, snow, and storms.
“Natural storms that destroyed our camps are more merciful than the security and intelligence storms that are following us. We feel that we are still at the mercy of the Syrian regime. No one feels safe anymore,” a Syrian refugee told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“Sometimes they accuse us of terrorism, and other times of competing with the Lebanese and stealing their livelihoods; as if our problems were not enough. We do not know our fate and the fate of our children. The Syrian camps in Arsal are witnessing continuous incursions by Hezbollah and the army it controls to carry out arrests of dozens of young people. Years ago, some of us were killed under torture. No one moved to do us justice,” he stated.
A resident from Al-Hujairi family agrees that his town has become open to known and unknown intelligence projects.
“It is as if a curse had descended on our town. We are paying the war tax in Syria. They planted among us extremists and agents of the regime and (Hezbollah), and distorted our image. We no longer distinguish between a normal refugee and another who is ordered to implement schemes that will hurt the already stricken town,” he said.
Lawyer and activist Nabil al-Halabi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “What happened in Arsal was condemned by the town community. Some have encouraged masked men to infiltrate among residents and Syrian refugees to cause a dispute. The aim is to push them to leave Arsal back into the Syrian regime, which will recruit them and force them to kill more people.”
Halabi noted that recent developments in Arsal were part of plans by the Syrian regime and Hezbollah.
“Practically, Hezbollah occupies the areas from which Arsal’s Syrians left, specifically Al-Qassir and Qalamoun. The party wants to consolidate this occupation,” he explained.
“The relationship is good between Arsal residents and the Syrian displaced, as it is good among the people of the Bekaa in general and those refugees,” he affirmed.
He recounted that when camps flooded during storms earlier this year, the Lebanese rushed to help the displaced and hosted them in their homes.
However, tension between the Syrian displaced and the hosting Lebanese communities is not limited to Arsal.
“I have been working in Lebanon for 15 years,” says Ali, a Syrian farmer working in the vicinity of the town of Riyaq in the Bekaa. “But the circumstances differed from what they were before 2011. I hear many who ask me to return to Syria. I remain silent for fear of losing my job.”
Ali said that house rents have greatly increased while work opportunities and salaries were falling.
“The competition is not between Lebanese and Syrians, but between the Syrians themselves,” he underlined.
Dr. Ziad al-Sayegh, an expert on public policies and refugees, told Asharq Al-Awsat that eight years after the beginning of the refugee crisis, Lebanon is still failing to adopt a unified policy to manage the problem.
“Donor countries of the United Nations bodies dealing with refugees, as well as international and local civil society organizations, are tired, while the CEDRE conference on supporting the re-launch of the economic cycle in the host communities continues to be stalled,” Sayegh remarked.