31 October 2015

Criminalizing Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

TeleSUR English

On the corniche in Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s seaside promenade, I recently witnessed the following scene: four Syrian boys who looked to be in their early teens were harmlessly partaking of some snacks on a bench when two members of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) descended upon them on bicycles. Identity papers were demanded, one of the boys was physically searched, and another was made to get down on his hands and knees and painstakingly collect every last sunflower seed shell that had accumulated at the group’s feet while one of the cops inexplicably took photographs of him. (They’ll surely make a great addition to any future brochure showcasing the ISF’s services.)

When my companion approached the boys afterward to ask for details, they claimed the intervention was triggered by their Syrian accents — a plausible hypothesis given the fact that the Lebanese present on the corniche continued to blissfully scatter remnants of their own snacks without meriting attention from the forces of law and order.

The boys added that the police had asked them if they also littered in their own country — to which they had appropriately responded that they could not properly dispose of the sunflower seed shells because the Lebanese government had nowhere to put Beirut’s trash. Indeed, willful incompetence on the part of the state has resulted in an ongoing rubbish crisis, which has meant that, for the past several months, sizable sectors of the capital and environs have found themselves inundated with festering garbage. Needless to say, much of this waste is far less biodegradable than sunflower seeds.

Profiling and harassment are only two of the ways the Lebanese government has complicated Syrian refugee existence. Last October, for example, it flat out stopped admitting refugees, and now requires the ones already present to pay an annual fee of US$200 to remain in the country. A host of other requirements further defy logic: refugees must provide a notarized pledge not to work in Lebanon, as well as copies of a lease agreement or property deed. For refugees who are both poor and forcibly jobless, it’s anyone’s guess where the money for housing — or the US$200 — is supposed to come from. READ MORE AT TeleSUR English.