Monday, December 10, 2012

Lebanon’s Bible Society and Syrian refugees in Lebanon

According to this article in Jadaliyya, Qatari charity and Lebanon's Bible Society have been helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon.  It even spoke about Lebanese government generosity toward the refugees.  So I asked an expert on the matter from an NGO in the region, to give her take of the matter. She wrote this (she does not wish to be identified):

"Since May 2011 when Syrians started arriving to Lebanon, first to the North, later to the Bekaa and other areas, the Higher Relief Council (الهيئة العليا للاغاثة) was providing assistance along with UNHCR and other local charities. Of course the assistance was not enough to cover all the needs and we are talking here only of those registered with UNHCR. The majority of Syrians in Lebanon are not registered (awaiting registration) or do not want to register (either for fear or do not need assistance). Of course many upper and middle class Syrian families who came to Lebanon (Beirut and other cities) did not register with UNHCR and live off savings or other revenues. Many Syrians, including those in Syria who used to work in the public sector -some of them opposition supporters or even FSA fighters-  still receive their monthly salaries.
So, the Lebanese Government was in a sense providing some assistance, though very little compared to the needs but they stopped in May 2012 and asked humanitarian agencies to step up their assistance.
The article refers to camps in the Bekaa which is wrong as there are no camps for Syrians in Lebanon (unlike in Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq). Lebanon refuses under any circumstances to have camps for Syrians for known reasons. So in terms of the generosity of Lebanon Government, this is a line you hear a lot in the lame statements by UN officials and it does not mean much. It is often used to thank governments for not closing borders (allowing refugees in) and for allowing UN agencies to operate. In this sense ok, Lebanon was generous, but only because they know no other way. Of course, this 'generosity' also applies to their generous detention of some Syrian refugees (especially at the beginning in many instances out of panic in pretext of illegal entry to the country, punishable by law. Of course the majority of those registered by UNHCR came illegally)
if you ask my opinion, the official position of the Government on Syrian refugees, as on many other issues, is non-existing, at best vague, and unlike Jordan and Turkey for example where the Government is much more in control and know exactly what they are doing (In Turkey the government itself registers refugees and not UNHCR and monopolized assistance up until very recently not allowing UN agencies to even step in the camps. Jordan decides where each refugee goes to which camp, where to establish a camp etc..) Lebanon only reacts and often very late and I doubt officials actually know what is going on on the ground. When refugees started arriving last year, I visited Wadi Kahlid and few days later I interviewed a HB official and asked about the new refugee situation at the border. he had no clue what was going on there and instead started asking me questions. Syrians back then were sheltered in homes in Wadi Khalid mostly through local initiatives by the mayors and at the request of the Future Movement. The Future Movement was the only party that understood the game early on. The government tried to take control, the Mikati style, and ended up with a schizophrenic position, on one hand arresting people and on the other hand providing some forms of assistance. The issue that then caught media attention was medical assistance to injured opposition fighters which March 8 opposed and considered as siding with the opposition. 
March 8 tried to make the distinction between humanitarian assistance which they said they understand (some Syrian refugees in Lebanon support the regime) and between politicizing the humanitarian situation. HB avoided and still does commenting on the refugee situation although some towns in the Bekaa with a majority of HB supporters shelter large numbers of refugees. Aoun on the other hand is more vocal and skeptic and often compares Syrian refugees to Palestinian refugees with high anti-Palestinian sentiments. 
Mikati was trying to please everyone: March 14 who were blaming him for not doing enough to refugees (he was also trying to please the West by trying to look committed to humanitarian principles) and March 8 who were skeptic about the military nature of refugees (armed groups, sending fighters, sending weapons, etc.). Of course you remember the famous speech of the Mayor of Arsal. At the end he failed at both, neither assistance was adequate nor control over military activity was ensured. "