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Displacement and Uncertainty: The Fate of Syrian Refugees

By: Nourhan, researcher and human rights activist.

A recent increase of racism against Syrian refugees has been noted in Lebanon, as is usual around this time of year. The Pascal Suleiman incident has once again brought hate speech and racism against Syrians in Lebanon to the forefront. There is nothing new about these discriminatory practices which have persisted for years against Syrians who fled their country in search of safety and security, but found none of that due to the lack of international protection and the failure of successive Lebanese governments to adopt policies that safeguard them.

The Pascal Suleiman incident has sparked numerous attacks in various Lebanese regions. This is due to the political culture established by Lebanese parties over the years which blames Syrian refugees for every economic or political crisis and criminal act. 

The severity of racist practices against Syrian refugees in Lebanon is escalating daily. Some governorates have begun issuing orders to Syrians to evacuate properties, giving them a 15-day notice to comply, as seen in northern Lebanon. State Security patrols enforced the decision of the Governor of Northern Lebanon, notifying Syrians who do not meet the conditions for asylum, work, or legal residence to vacate their homes and places. Syrians in Kfifan and Kobba were among those notified, and those living in Basatin Al-Asi were evacuated. The Byblos Municipality also demanded that all displaced Syrians without the necessary licences and legal residency in Lebanon leave within ten days from the date of notification, under penalty of harsh legal measures. Many municipalities, including Sin El Fil, Minieh, and Nabi Yusha, are following the example of Byblos.

Even the camps have not been spared. Security authorities began dismantling camps for displaced Syrians in the Koura district of northern Lebanon. They successfully dismantled one of the largest camps in the region, evacuating a compound that housed about 1,500 Syrians, as well as the camp in the Al-Waha complex. 

In the Bekaa region, Syrian refugee camps faced increased security scrutiny and pressure from Lebanese authorities. General Security and intelligence agencies intensified their periodic, almost daily visits, conducting raids on some camps. The largest camp in the Marj area, Camp 003, was warned of evacuation and demolition with bulldozers within an hour and a half, but intervention from Lebanese clerics and notable figures stopped the decision.

Not a day passes without a statement being issued stating that the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon “has become a danger,” leading to an escalation in the severity of actions against refugees. Patrols from the Southern Information Division of Public Security conducted a wide campaign in Nabatieh and its surrounding areas to suppress violations and monitor Syrian workers, leading to the closure of a men’s barber shop in Ber Al-Qandil village, which was then sealed with red wax, and had its owner arrested. A rock sawmill in Shokin, a bakery in Ansar, and a scrap yard at the Nabatieh Al-Fawqa-Zawtar Sharqiya junction, all run by Syrians, were closed. The Public Security Centre in Koura shut down stores selling vegetables, fruits, groceries, commercial goods, clothing, and a men’s barbershop in Anfeh and Dar Baashtar, managed indirectly by Syrians. In Zahle, the General Directorate of Public Security in the Bekaa continued its patrols against “illegal” Syrian institutions, closing dozens under orders from the Public Prosecution of Appeal. This campaign was met with satisfaction among Lebanese business owners. The closed establishments spanned various industries and professions usually reserved for Lebanese citizens.

The campaign also covered areas in Jeb Jenin and Gaza in Western Bekaa, Nabi Sheet in Northern Bekaa, and Bar Elias in Central Bekaa. Establishments like bicycle repair shops, motorcycle sales, grocery shops, and grain storage warehouses were shut down. Public Security had previously warned the owners to legalise their business activity, stating there would be no tolerance for violators.

Syrian refugees live in fear of deportation to Syria, where the lives of Syrian youth are at risk if handed over to Syrian authorities, especially those wanted by the Syrian regime or for compulsory military service. Recently, there has been an increase in the deportation of Syrians without legal residency or with expired permits. Some were arrested at security checkpoints set up without notice between regions and villages, while others were arrested in night raids by security services. The Director General of Lebanese Public Security announced a plan for the deportation of certain prisoners, coordinated with the Minister of Justice and the Cassation Public Prosecution, under the supervision of the Minister of Interior. He also revealed that the General Directorate of Public Security is preparing an amendment related to residency conditions, tightening the implementation of these conditions. This includes strict provisions for any Syrian violating residency conditions or Lebanese laws, with immediate deportation for violators. This news coincided with the increase in residency fees and new decisions regarding obtaining legal residency in Lebanon.

A populist rhetoric from some politicians has incited hostility against Syrian refugees, blaming them for the country’s economic collapse and even accusing them of causing shortages of bread and basic materials. They claim refugees receive allowances in US dollars as well as all basic necessities such as medicine, education, food supplies, and heating fuel, while Lebanese citizens undergo unbearable hardships.

The escalation of racist practices against Syrian refugees, coupled with dire economic conditions, pushed many Syrians to take difficult decisions, including going on perilous sea voyages from Lebanese shores to Europe. Between January and  April 2024, 65 migrant boats carrying around 3,927 immigrants, including 2,398 Syrians, departed from Lebanon. Tragically, some Syrians have chosen death over the "hell of Assad’s prisons," with several recent cases of suicide following the intensified security campaigns.

Lebanese authorities are using the refugee issue to pressure the international community and European Union for more support, and to deflect blame for their own failures in managing the country and internal issues, attributing the economic collapse to Syrian refugees. Although the European Commission’s billion-euro grant provided temporary relief, it was quickly overshadowed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reducing its budget for Syrian refugee healthcare. European pressure on Lebanon’s health sector continues, with UNHCR’s decision negatively impacting healthcare provision, previously supported by Commission funds.

Since their arrival in Lebanon, most Syrian refugees have endured constant fear of the unknown, placing them in a perpetual state of anxiety and uncertainty.

By: Nourhan, researcher and human rights activist.



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