Germany Refugee Policy Makes Life Unbearable for Lebanese

By Nayla Rush, September 20, 2016

In an recent open letter to the German Ambassador in Lebanon, a Lebanese national residing next to the German embassy in Lebanon informed the ambassador about her intention to leave her apartment:

Since your government decided to welcome Syrian migrants into your country and following your decision to allow these migrants to present their visa applications at the embassy premises which is in a residential area, my life became unbearable.

The Lebanese woman went on to say that, for over a year now and on a daily basis, her street (which used to be a safe haven), was now occupied by hundreds of Syrian refugees every day. These refugees camp there, eat (even grill outdoors at the risk of causing fires), use the street as an outdoor bathroom, many even sleep there to be the first in the embassy the next morning.

Lebanese in this particular neighborhood can no longer park their cars or walk on the street; even fire trucks in the nearby firehouse cannot pass through. Residents complained on numerous occasions but the ambassador has chosen to turn a deaf ear despite the fact that the risk of violence was getting higher every day.

"Are you ready to take full responsibility of the consequences of their [Syrian refugees'] presence ... especially if a town council agent is aggressed?", the author of the letter asked.

She explained why she finally decided to write the ambassador:

If I waited such a long time before writing this letter, it is because I was torn by the misery of these refugees who are looking for a future and a decent life. But today, it is me who is torn by this nightmare that has become my life. I want the peace I had before you decided to welcome these migrants. I want to be able to practice my painting job again, I want to be able to go for a walk and not have to bear all the leering that follow me as I pass by...Your government and Chancellor [Angela Merkel] keep repeating that welcoming Syrian refugees is a humanitarian duty. At the expense of Lebanese civilians?...You could move to another place, or set up appointments to receive these refugees but you refuse to collaborate.

She concluded:

Faced with your determination to treat Syrian refugees with dignity in order to attract cheap labor, I see myself obliged to let go of my apartment, go rent a place to live somewhere and become a refugee in my own country.

There are an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, on top of a population of 4.5 million. This means that Lebanon has the highest per capita number of Syrian refugees (1 in 4 people in the country). Lebanon is also host to half a million Palestinian refugees.

As some praise this country for its welcoming stand, the truth is, Lebanon is on the verge of collapse if only for the added burden on schools, electricity, and the job market. Not to mention the political, religious, and sectarian tensions.

In January 2015, Lebanon put an end to its open-door policy for Syrians which allowed them to enter without a visa and renew their residencies virtually free of charge. New entry regulations denied entry to most Syrians (apart from those with exceptional humanitarian needs) while costly and restrictive residency renewal regulations were implemented. Also, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had to suspend the registration of Syrians in compliance with the government's request.

The United Nations and the United States are both pushing for the permanent settlement – called "social and economic integration or refugee inclusion" – of Syrian refugees in the region. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon wrote in an op-ed titled "Refugees and Migrants: A Crisis of Solidarity" this May: "the better new arrivals are integrated, the greater their contribution to society will be. We need more measures to promote the social and economic inclusion of refugees and migrants."

President Obama is hosting a Leaders' Summit on Refugees today, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (which held its own summit on refugees yesterday) in order to "increase humanitarian assistance and create more long-term, durable opportunities for refugees".

During this summit, the president is expected to ask world leaders for more funding (30 percent more), more resettlement and other legal channels of admission, and more refugees' inclusion and self-reliance in hosting countries in the Middle East.

Responding to the Secretary General, the Lebanese Prime Minister reminded world leaders (and will probably reiterate Lebanon's position today) that "Lebanon cannot, in any circumstance, accept the permanent settlement ["implantation" was the French word used], the naturalization or the integration of Syrian refugees."

Elizabeth Richard, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, recently reassured Lebanese politicians in charge of refugee matters. Lebanon, she said, is to be excluded from President Obama's proposition to permanently settle Syrian refugees in their countries of first asylum.

A Lebanese government source welcomed Ms. Richard's comforting words but asked for palpable actions, not just promises. The source told the Lebanese newspaper l'Orient Le Jour: "What is worrisome is that big nations refused many of our Lebanese suggestions to control the spreading of refugees on our territory." The politician also denounced the fact that, of the funds promised during the London conference last February, only those linked to the creation of factories were paid. "Why do they want to give jobs to so many Syrians in Lebanon? Isn't that a form of permanent settlement?"

The source continued: "Lebanese politicians explained that permanent resettlement of refugees is contrary to the Constitution and will lead to a demographic disequilibrium knowing that refugees surpass 1,5 million and have a natality rate of over 50,000 births per year [it is 80,000 for the entire Lebanese population]. It goes without saying that the restrictions set by the Lebanese government allowed to regulate the entry of refugees but the Departments of Education, Health and Energy carry a heavy burden, not to mention the terrorists who entered Lebanon."

The danger for Lebanon is real. And the longer the Syrian crisis continues, the greater the risk. The Lebanese Prime Minister warned: "Experience teaches us that as the duration of the exodus stretches in time, refugees become less enthusiastic to return," adding, "the return of refugees should be the number one priority." He urged Ban Ki Moon to channel all United Nations efforts towards that end.

It is not sure he will be heard at this week's refugee summits. "Return" is not on the agenda; instead, other "durable solutions," such as resettlement and "integration," will unquestionably be promoted.

Meanwhile, Lebanese are no longer feeling at home in their own country.