The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: State Fragility and Social Resilience
At least 250,000 civilian have been killed in the Syrian conflict since 2011. The war has devastated infrastructure and economy and has transformed entire regions of the state into semi-anarchical or warlord-ruled areas. Millions of Syrians have fled their homes to seek refuge either in different areas of the country or abroad. The scale of this forced migration has no precedent in the modern history of the Middle East; according to official sources there are 6.6 million internally displaced persons and 4.7 million refugees. About half of the Syrian population is forcibly displaced.
Owing to its geographic proximity, the overlap in language and historical relations with its neighbour, Lebanon is one of the most obvious destinations for Syrians trying to escape the civil war, and around 1.2 million have registered there with the UNHCR. Yet, this small country (only slightly bigger than Cyprus) with a population of about 4 million and a history of troubled relations with Damascus, is hardly an ideal refuge.
Many of Lebanon’s political factions and paramilitary groups are closely related to or directly involved in events in Syria, and Lebanese state institutions are known for their scarce capacity for the provision of essential services and security even to Lebanese nationals.
Nevertheless, although five years ago it was plausible that the conflict would spill into Lebanon, grave security incidents that have occured have remained localised and episodic.
While the refugee crisis has caused concerns and been perceived as yet another destabilising factor in the social, political, and economic context of the country, considering the magnitude of the phenomenon its impact has not yet caused as much disruption as could have been expected. Syrians in Lebanon are vulnerable and those in the category of ‘displaced’ (nazih) are increasingly segregated. The local host communities are strained by limited infrastructural capacity and increased competition for services and resources. Still, episodes of friction with the refugee population have been relatively limited.
This report provides an account of the situation in five sections. Firstly, it offers an account of the unfolding of the crisis from the perspective of Lebanese political institutions. Secondly, it maps political reactions to the crisis, focussing on the main actors involved.
Thirdly, it analyses the status of Syrians displaced in Lebanon – displacement being one of the main sources of vulnerability. Fourthly, it highlights the role played by local administrations and international organisations in managing the crisis. And finally, it illustrates how Syrian-Lebanese migrations have a consolidated history based on mutual economic interests, and social and cultural ties.
Based on these considerations, the report then proposes a set of possible courses of action to be undertaken by various stakeholders. The objective of this report is to strengthen knowledge and understanding of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and, on this basis, it proposes policy guidelines that can facilitate greater protection for refugees as well as support the stability and development of the host country.