Don’t blame Syr­ian refugees for your prob­lems, Le­banon told

Forc­ing them to go home ‘will not end eco­nomic cri­sis’


BEIRUT: Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and the me­dia were urged on Wednesday not to make Syr­ian refugees scape­goats for Le­banon’s prob­lems.

“Le­banon is headed to­ward par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, and there are so many con­tro­ver­sial de­bates about is­sues that af­fect Le­banese so­ci­ety, pol­i­tics and the econ­omy,” said Mireille Gi­rard, rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Le­banon for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

“Ten­sion may some­times be fo­cused on refugees be­cause they are be­lieved to be the cause of many cur­rent po­lit­i­cal, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic prob­lems. Thus, it is very im­por­tant that we sit to­gether and thor­oughly dis­cuss this mat­ter.

“The me­dia is re­spon­si­ble for re­duc­ing ten­sion and be­ing ob­jec­tive, and this is also the re­spon­si­bil­ity of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and other con­cerned sec­tors.”

Gi­rard was speak­ing at a work­shop or­ga­nized with the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion on me­dia cov­er­age of the refugee is­sue. In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Mel­hem Ri­achy called for “pos­i­tive me­dia cov­er­age that does not con­ceal facts, vi­o­late the prin­ci­ple of ob­jec­tiv­ity and sug­gest that the whole pop­u­la­tion of a coun­try are mur­der­ers be­cause one of them com­mit­ted a crime.”

Ri­achy ac­cused some me­dia out­lets of pro­mot­ing racism and ideas that con­tra­dicted his­tor­i­cal fact. “If we wish for refugees to re­turn safely to their own coun­try, we must work to ease the causes of ten­sion in Le­banon,” he said.

UNHCR Pro­tec­tion Of­fi­cer Es­ther Pin­zari said im­mi­grants and dis­placed peo­ple were not the same as Syr­ian refugees, of whom there were 1 mil­lion in Le­banon. En­sur­ing their safe and vol­un­tary re­turn was im­por­tant, she said. “Seek­ing refuge in a third coun­try is the so­lu­tion for a small num­ber of peo­ple who suf­fer from ex­tremely frag­ile con­di­tions.”

Nasser Yassin, direc­tor of re­search at the In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut, said most Syr­ian refugees were women and chil­dren, and they contributed $1.25 bil­lion to Le­banon’s econ­omy.

“In the past, they used to spend their money inside Syria,” he said. “If refugees re­turned to Syria to­day, only the ten­sion would be eased, but not Le­banon’s eco­nomic cri­sis.”

Schott Gregg, UNHCR me­dia of­fi­cer, said refugees could not be forced to re­turn to Syria while vi­o­lence con­tin­ued. “The war in Syria is not over yet,” he said. “The ar­eas that are safe this week may not be so next week.”

A young Syr­ian refugee in Le­banon. (Reuters)

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