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The Burden of Scarce Opportunities: The Social Stability Context in Central and West Bekaa – Conflict Analysis Report, March 2017

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This report introduces the conflict context in the Central Bekaa region. The area is of geostrategic importance as it contains the main border crossing to Syria and the Damascus highway, the international route from Beirut to Damascus. It is also home to around a quarter of all Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The area which once lived off services and trade through the border crossing and the Highway, agriculture, and agro-food industries, has been hit hard by the Syrian crisis and is burdened by the sharp decrease in economic opportunities and the doubling of its population.

Politically, the majority of the local population continues to support Future Movement, despite the fact it is increasingly contested by religious actors, including Salafi political groups and Islamic charities on one side of the political divide and Al-Itihad party, Hezbollah and the Lebanese resistance brigade on the other. The governor of the Bekaa and the Lebanese armed forces play a key role in managing the Syrian refugee population, reflecting a national securitized policy that imposes restriction on Syrian residence and shelter. Municipalities, particularly given the large size of the villages and the relative experience of their members, are at the forefront of the relationship with refugees and key in mitigating local conflicts. Donor agencies, civil society actors, and the shawish provide different models of shelter management while the former are key in supporting both the Syrian refugees and the host communities.

The region is trapped in the entanglements of the national Lebanese political schisms, and kidnapping as well as blocking of main roads are frequently used forms of social and political contestation. Municipalities are caught in between political divisions and pressure to address growing needs and demands for services, which affect their ability to mitigate local divisions and, at times, feeds antagonistic relations.

In terms of relationships between the host community and the refugees, the report highlights the implications of local competition over livelihoods and economic activities. Voices from the Lebanese side blame the Syrian refugees and request restrictions on their economic activities while Syrians, struggling with the overbearing difficulties of managing daily life, express a feeling of being exploited by their hosts. The national and regional policy concerning refugees requiring Lebanese sponsorship of Syrians in Lebanon and prohibiting the moving of settlements is increasing the vulnerability of Syrian refugees and contributing to the development of patronage and corruption networks.

The report reveals how conflict insensitive policies, implementation of such policies as well as media discourse contribute to a negative portrayal of the Syrian refugees. Such negative portrayal of the Syrian refugees is instrumentally used for local political gain. Syrian-Lebanese partnerships for improved relationships are weakened by immigration of empowered or educated Syrian civil society actors. The region nevertheless enjoys an infrastructure that helps to create connections, including a long history of municipal action and a cultural heritage of mitigating conflict as well as strong family and clan ties with the Syrian refugee population. The approach of international aid organizations, particularly in targeting the host community, as well as that of local civil society organizations, including the budding Syrian NGOs, is also forging connections locally.

The report urges the Lebanese government to reconsider the policy on Syrian refugees’ residency and shelter and to facilitate the registration of deaths and births. In parallel, it recommends that donor agencies and civil society organizations advocate for such a change. The Lebanese government is also invited to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the influx of international aid to improve Lebanese governmental services in rural areas and take on a greater role in ensuring interventions are strategic and sustainable. Donor agencies and civil society actors are urged to invest in national level and structural interventions to support the economic infrastructure and create employment opportunities, as well as local level employment-generating projects particularly those encouraging Syrian-Lebanese cooperation like community markets. Support to host communities, particularly through infrastructure and solid waste management interventions and infrastructure at the municipal level and to livelihoods projects should be maintained.