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"Why don't you leave?" Syrian refugees in Lebanon share their daily struggles

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Life Marginalized Groups

Wednesday 5 April 202303:00 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"ليش ما بتفلّوا؟"... معاناة ومبادرات شبّان وشابات سوريين في لبنان، تُجيب!


Accusations of stealing bread, robbing the country and its people, racist remarks wherever they go, exclusion, violence and harm, are all reactions towards Syrian refugees, as reported by the Lebanese media, and fueled by open posts on social media platforms, thus making hate speech against Syrian refugees the dominant image on the Lebanese scene.

These campaigns, which are systematic and random, were the result of chance, but rather the result of several accumulations that Lebanese political leaders have used as an excuse to lift responsibility from them in corruption cases that stained their hands and consciences. Because we are in the age of digital media, the results and consequences have come dire, and now anyone who harbors hatred and anger in their hearts aim their words towards Syrian refugees, blaming them for the economic crisis that Lebanon is going through!

Hatred isn't limited to verbal and digital violence towards Syrian refugees, but has also escalated into harmful and unjustified reactions on the ground: exploitation, rejecting anyone with a Syrian nationality from applying for a job, eviction from homes and public transportation, and many other violations of their rights.

A special diagnosis, a deep analysis, and continuous observation have led to a dangerous conclusion: these are all symptoms of an old-new disease that some Lebanese suffer from, called "refugee phobia"!

Hatred isn't limited to verbal and digital violence towards Syrian refugees, but has also escalated into harmful and unjustified reactions on the ground

And the treatment? Through confrontation, openness, supporting alternative opinions, reporting the truth, and mainly, by confronting targeted and biased media, and rejecting the hate speech it conveys, which is exacerbated by the electronic media.

That's why I write. I am writing to tell you, on behalf of some young men and women, Syrian refugees, and Lebanese people, stories of pain and hope.

"In search of safety"

A residence permit is the golden ticket for a refugee in Lebanon. Without it, a refugee will remain running away from checkpoints, from public places, from people and from him/herself.

“I am afraid of passing through the checkpoint, I am afraid that this checkpoint will take me. I feel like they will tell me to get out," Mohammed recalls the horror he experiences when he passes through a security checkpoint in Lebanon with a sharp tone and a frightened look. The Syrian refugee who has been in Lebanon since 2014 and refused to give his full name since his stay in the country is illegal, adds, "Even though I haven't done anything wrong, I still feel afraid because I was raised in a system that made us afraid of security forces, the police, and the army."

Mohammed is an ambitious 23-year-old young man who studied cinema and directing, and is now struggling in Lebanon to buy a loaf of bread and renew his residency! He shares his fears during a safe discussion session in a Beirut café, with his friends. The shock was that many of the refugees, especially those who do not have an official residence permit in Lebanon, share this very same psychological pain he is living in.

"I fled to Lebanon out of fear that they would kill me in Syria after our house was destroyed, and I want to complete my university studies here, but the impossible conditions for obtaining a residence permit, including registration at the university, prevent me from doing so," says Shahd, 24, who refused to give her full name, lamenting her suffering as a young refugee who has been living in Lebanon since 2018. She adds, "I wasn't in the right mindset to remember to bring my diplomas. I want to complete my university studies and have a good future."

After several attempts, Shahd was able to obtain her certificate papers from the seventh to the twelfth grade, as required by the Lebanese state. She went to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon to begin collecting her dues, but she was shocked by a bitter reality, "Some employees were looking down on me with contempt, and questioned the validity and authenticity of my papers, and I felt let down," she says.

Shahd did not give up and tried to hire a lawyer to help her, but the latter asked for $6,000 US dollars in exchange for his services, a figure that is impossible for Shahd to secure, as she tries every day, with all her energy, to meet her most basic life needs.

Shahd ends her story in a sharp tone full of sorrow and rebelliousness, saying, "I am psychologically tired of trying. I'm a refugee, why do I need to have a residency? Have mercy on us!"

Shahd, who physically resides in Lebanon, is deprived of legal residence in Lebanon. Shahd, who has fled a war of guns and explosions, to psychological warfare, has done nothing wrong other than the fact that she took refuge in Lebanon. The traces of her footsteps on the streets of Beirut portray her suffering, as she avoids using public transportation, fearing that she will be stopped at a checkpoint. Shahd ends recounting her story in a sharp tone full of sorrow and rebelliousness, saying, "I am psychologically tired of trying. I'm a refugee, why do I need to have a residency? Have mercy on us!"

The fear of checkpoints, the dilemma of obtaining or renewing a residence permit in Lebanon, and the denial of education and work – these are just some of the fears and problems that refugees suffer from, let alone the risk of drowning, fires, the cold and disease? Yet some Lebanese still ask, "Why don't you leave?"

Why don't they go back to their country?

Louay refuses to return to Syria, saying, "There is no safe return, so I don't want to go back. I am a nonviolent person. I am a peaceful person. If I go back, I'll be forced to carry out compulsory service in the army and then fight."

Mohammed Khait, 25, a young Syrian who sought refuge in Lebanon seven years ago, says, "I did not flee to Lebanon by voluntary decision. I came because I had no other choice. I ran away from the war. My return to Syria today will not be like some would expect. Returning is painful, and nothing guarantees that I'll stay safe there and act freely." Regarding the possibility of moving to a country other than Lebanon, he says, "If I had a chance to leave Lebanon to a country other than Syria, I would not have given it up."

Mohammed Khait is one of the most active Syrian refugees working to break stereotypes about refugees of all nationalities in the Central Bekaa region. He is a social activist and a volunteer in more than one initiative within different associations in Lebanon aimed at building peace. After receiving a six-month training with Baytna Syria, he and his fellow participants in the Bekaa were able to train 40 young men and women of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian nationalities. The trainings focused on accepting others and accepting oneself, and reducing violence.

"The trainings and volunteer opportunities that integrate the Lebanese nationality with the Syrian nationality have had a great positive impact on me, since I got rid of the stereotype entrenched in my mind about Syrian refugees"

These trainings have met with positive results, according to Mohammed. "Our main slogan was: difference, not disagreement," he says. "After noticing the increase in hate speech against Syrian refugees, especially during the bread shortage crisis, we decided to contribute to breaking stereotypes about Syrians in Lebanon," Mohammed explains, then adds, "We tried to adopt spontaneous methods in training, searching for common links between trainees, and facilitating communication between them.. For example, one of the methods adopted in the training was listening to songs that everyone loves, such as Fayrouz's songs."

Mohammed talks about the impact of these trainings on the participants, and his eyes shine with hope, as he seeks to achieve peace and spread love and security. Here, he recalls the spirit of coexistence and cooperation that once united the Lebanese with the Syrians in the region, lamenting the current situation that has become charged with hatred.

Breaking stereotypes

"Every time I listen to a refugee's story, I feel like I want to help them from my heart," says Marie Saleh on how she feels about refugees.

Marie is a young woman in her twenties and a Lebanese human rights activist, who always volunteers in associations and participates in projects aimed at achieving peace. Before integrating into social work and seeing the reality of things on the ground, she used to look down on Syrians. She considered them ignorant, uneducated, and inferior to the Lebanese. However, this perception has completely changed after she got to know a large segment of Syrian refugees during trainings and in inclusive workplaces.

I wrote because hatred depletes our humanity, and only breeds conflicts

Today, Marie has close friends of the Syrian nationality. She admits that she sometimes feels that they are better informed than her, and stresses that "the trainings and volunteer opportunities that integrate the Lebanese nationality with the Syrian nationality have had a great positive impact on me, since I got rid of the stereotype entrenched in my mind about Syrian refugees." She adds, "I am proud that the majority of young Syrians I know are constantly developing their knowledge and skills and some of the Syrian girls and young women I know through the trainings have refused to marry early as a result of the discussions we have had and the awareness campaigns we attend together."

Marie was not only a recipient of this change, but rather she tried to transfer it to her community, so she and her friends established a center in Baalbek, which she dedicated as a safe space to gather young men and women of different nationalities, to share all their feelings and stories honestly, freely and safely.

I wrote for them

I wrote because hatred depletes our humanity, and only breeds conflict. I wrote to say: Be kind to Syrian refugees. They have not headed the Lebanese state for 30 years, and they are not the ones who "ruined the country".

These lines were an expression of their muted voice. I wrote about those who stepped on hatred and let hope grow in its place, and about others who live a psychological war, fighting for safety with all their might.

I wrote for all of them. For love. For peace. I wish the lines could expand to encompass all their stories that I hear and witness.


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