Unwelcoming Syrian refugees

In Lebanon, chauvinistic political discourse has ratcheted up the slowly mounting hostility towards Syrian refugees.
Saturday 31/08/2019
A Syrian child looks at the rubble of demolished concrete walls at a make-shift camp in the town of Rihaniyye in Lebanon's Akkar governorate, August 9. (AFP)
A Syrian child looks at the rubble of demolished concrete walls at a make-shift camp in the town of Rihaniyye in Lebanon's Akkar governorate, August 9. (AFP)

There are worrisome signs that the willingness to accommodate refugees in Middle East host countries is increasingly wearing thin.

In Lebanon, chauvinistic political discourse has ratcheted up the slowly mounting hostility towards Syrian refugees. Segments of the 6 million Lebanese population see the 1.5 million Syrian refugees as offering unfair competition to them in terms of employment and government services.

To encourage Syrian refugees to leave the country and to dissuade them in any case from permanently settling in Lebanon, the government imposed restrictions on refugees in terms of employment and housing. Many homes built with concrete were razed in Arsal by the army or by the owners themselves. Fines were imposed on businesses employing Syrian refugees without a due licence.

Besides, the pressure put on Syrian refugees have added to the Palestinian refugees’ wariness about their situation in Lebanon and revived old tensions.

There have also been signs of an increasingly precarious situation for Syrian refugees in Egypt, with familiar complaints that the more than the 550,000 refugees are spiking the cost of housing and competing for jobs. Syrian businesses were raided by authorities.

In Turkey, large sectors of the political class and the public at large are complaining that the more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees are exerting intolerable pressures on the country’s economy and politics.

The ruling Justice and Development Party and the opposition seem to agree on that point. Public opinion polls in Turkey indicate most respondents stated they favour “repatriation of refugees.”

The issue has become a driver of Turkish policy at home and abroad. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seized on the problem to justify the creation by his military forces of a zone under Turkish control in north-western Syria where the refugees would be repatriated.

Erdogan might have other concerns. Turkish scholar Selim Sazak stated in Foreign Policy: “Erdogan sees the writing on the wall: Turkey’s anti-refugee wave is now a movement waiting for a leader and he needs to act before it finds its Matteo Salvini.”

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