More Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Written by J. Comins 

Translation: María Blanco Palencia

The humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian conflict continues aggravating in view of the international community’s passivity. If last Wednesday’s attack against the National Security’s head office in Damascus has, on one hand, generated scepticism around the strength of the Syrian regime, it has, on the other, overcome the already cruel statistics of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The issue of refugees does not only represent a humanitarian challenge for the country of cedars, exceeded by the lack of means and by its current complex economic and social crisis; moreover, the Lebanese Government faces an increasingpolitization of the issue.

According to data published by UNHCR spokesman on 17 July, the total number of Syrian refugees –which includes refugees in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon– has multiplied by three during last April, reaching 112,000. Only in Lebanon there are 28,103 registered. However, the most alarming part of the situation is the announcement done by the High Relief Committee stating that it isincapable of providing health and food assistance due to budgetary restrictions. According to Ibrahim Bashir, head of the organization, the hospitalization invoice has risen from 400,000 Dollars in the last months to 1.2 Million Dollars in June, forcing them toask for help from Saudi Arabia.

The arrival of the latest refugees, mainly from Damascus, has only fuelled the climate of tension and worries. During the forty-eight hours that followed the attacks by rebels on the Syrian ruling members, thousands of displaced, between 8,500 and 30,000according to Lebanese General Security sources and local reports, crossed the Lebanese border. A massive human exodus which are currently staying in luxury hotels for rich visitors from the Gulf –paying very reduced fees–, which contributes to alleviating millionaire economic losses produced by this summer’s tourism decrease. Among the new clients there are also supporters of Bashar Al Assad’s regime, who fear suffering reprisals from opposition forces and armed groups which move around the city. “I prefer Bashar Al Assad to the rebels, which are all Islamists” states Imad Musawi, a 37 year-old businessman who fled from Damascus last Friday in a convoy of eight cars with other fifty people.

At the same time of the massive arrival of Syrian refugees, the gap between members of the Lebanese Executive seem to be widening despite their interest to appear, since the beginning, as a dissociated and impartial actor in the Syrian crisis. Walid Jumblat, leader of the Socialist Progressive Party (SPP), has publically stated that building refugee camps for Syrian refugees as in Jordan and Turkey constitutes a moral imperative before a political obligation. However, his harshest critiques are directed towards Hassan Nasrallah for his support to the Syrian regime and his praise to Asef Shawkat, vice Minister of Defence and Bashar al Assad’s brother-in-law, killed during the attack on Wednesday 18 July. On its hand, the party Hizbullah is not willing to accept the establishment of Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon as it fears they will become platforms of logistic support for Syrian rebels, as seems to be happening in the Palestinian refugee camp of Naher al Bared. According to a high standing official of the Lebanese security forces, this camp has a small sea exit which is being used for the trafficking of weapons towards Syria.

The dramatic humanitarian situation that the Syrian population is going through adds to other well-known regional examples. It is yet another episode of political and moral misery which can be seen by other regional actors as an opportunity to regain influence. As usually, international alliances and parties’ interests hinder the more than needed consensus and impede a decided political action towards alleviating the suffering of its major victims: a population destined to engross lists in international organizations, dispossessed from any right, running away terrified, leaving behind their properties, going into an uncertain future.

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J. Comins

J. Comins is a political scientist specialising in Diplomacy and International Relations. In recent years, has served with the United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and Mali (MINUSMA), and also worked as security advisor for the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) in Afghanistan. He occasionally contributes analysis to the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (Ministry of Defence) and the International Security Studies Group (GESI) at the Department of Political Science of the University of Granada.

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