Lebanon’s refugees given priority for resettlement in Europe, Canada

Canada has resettled the largest number of refugees from Lebanon since 2015.
Sunday 03/02/2019
A Syrian woman refugee and her two children attend a community gathering to welcome them in Queensland, Nova Scotia, Canada. (AP)
New home. A Syrian woman refugee and her two children attend a community gathering to welcome them in Queensland, Nova Scotia, Canada. (AP)

BEIRUT - More than three years after Europe witnessed the largest influx of migrants and refugees since World War II, causing tensions among EU members, people fleeing conflicts and economic hardships are still trying to reach Europe, though at a lesser rate.

The number of clandestine arrivals in Europe in 2018 fell 92% compared to the peak immigration rate of more than 1 million in 2015 but refugees from the Middle East are increasingly seeking legal channels for resettlement in third countries, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

The largest number of refugees granted resettlement is from Lebanon. The vast majority of those are Syrian nationals, in addition to Iraqis and Palestinians and other nationalities, said Mariella Tra, IOM Operations officer in Lebanon.

“People who have been resettled from Lebanon in 2018 are around 50,000 and the year before it was around 20,000. In total, we had some 75,000 departures from Lebanon in the past three years under the auspices of IOM, including those who travelled under family reunification programmes,” Tra said.

She noted that Lebanon was the largest sending host country for resettlements, more so than Turkey or Jordan.

“This is because many resettlement countries know the needs in Lebanon and are aware that the refugee population is extremely high when compared to the local population, much more than in other host countries,” Tra said.

Canada has resettled the largest number of refugees from Lebanon since 2015. In 2016, Ottawa significantly increased its intake as part of a regional effort to resettle Syrian refugees.

“European countries including Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and France are also taking refugees from Lebanon. We resettled even to Argentina and Chile. Over the last two years, refugees were resettled in 24 different countries,” Tra said.

“Many countries are making an effort to help resettle the refugees. Resettlement is a humanitarian and a protection tool but it is also a way of sharing responsibility between resettlement countries and host countries like Lebanon where the refugee population is so large and a big burden.”

Lebanon plays host to approximately 970,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR. At its peak, the figure was 1.2 million in 2015 but Lebanese officials estimate the actual number at no less than 1.5 million.

Khalil Ibrahim, a 34-year-old refugee from Daraa in southern Syria, said he hoped to be resettled in Canada soon. “I applied to be reunited with my wife. She migrated with her family four years ago when we were still engaged. We married here in Lebanon last year. I want to join her now,” Ibrahim said.

“We cannot live here anymore and there is no going back. I have lost everything I owned in Daraa — my business, my property and my house, which was razed to the ground. I am looking forward to my life in Canada. It will be a different life from what we had before.”

Ibrahim was waiting to go through screening at Focus, the firm contracted by the Canadian Embassy to collect information about migration applicants.

Irregular migration mainly from the Middle East and Africa continues towards Europe causing divisions among EU members on how to handle the flow of migrants.

IOM said more than 5,757 people had arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2019 and 207 died or were reported missing while crossing the Mediterranean. However, 2018 witnessed a drop in arrivals with 144,166 migrants, compared to 186,768 in 2017. Also 2,297 people died or were reported missing in 2018, compared to 3,139 in 2017.

UNHCR said the largest group of migrants who arrived in Europe in 2018 were from the west African country of Guinea (13,068) followed by Morocco (12,745) and Mali (10,327). Syrians were the fourth biggest group (9,839), followed by Afghans (7,621) and Iraqis (7,333).

Numbers have decreased significantly from 2015-16 because of deterrent measures, including a 2016 EU deal with Turkey, new border fences in the Balkans and a 2017 arrangement between Italy and Libya.

A report by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) attributed the decline in the number of immigrants to the collapse of access across the Mediterranean towards Italy. The “closed ports” policy implemented by the ruling right-wing coalition in Italy is one of the factors for the reduction of illegal immigrants.

Italy has refused to allow humanitarian ships to dock in its ports in a bid to force its European partners to share the burden of arrivals.

The underlying factors that have led to more than 1.8 million migrants heading to Europe since 2014 have not gone away. Violence, insecurity and economic crises persist in the migrants’ countries of origin and the arrival of illegal immigrants is bound to continue.