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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

For the past six years, Syria has been plagued by intractable conflict and discord. As one of the nations that shares borders with Syria, Lebanon hosts more than 1 million Syrian refugees. While there was initially broad support for the decision to offer aid to refugees, the Lebanese public has gradually grown hostile to their presence, due, in part, to increasing media scrutiny of refugees. In particular, the recent rape-murder of Raya Chidiac, a Lebanese woman, has been heavily politicized. As the individual who committed the crime was himself a Syrian refugee, a growing segment of the Lebanese populace view the incident as proof that Syrians need to return to their homeland more rapidly.

While Lebanese President Michel Aoun has publicly stated that he is not inclined to force refugees to return, many citizens desire so. Still, the predominant belief that Syrian refugees should begin to return more rapidly is juxtaposed with the Syrian reality in the form of perpetual war, making it hard for refugees to safely re-enter Syria at the pace at which many in Lebanon hope for, without having to flee once again shortly thereafter. As noted in the World Politics Review, “as long as there are significant risks to civilians posed by extremist groups, damaged infrastructure, ongoing displacement and a dire humanitarian emergency, safe and sustainable return is not a reality.” Truly, refugees that return before “security and stable infrastructure” are broadly assured might face “arrest or conscription into the army,” among other harsh realities.

In the case of Syrians that have already started making the journey back, airstrikes and associated military campaigns against remaining militant groups pose significant danger. In Arsal, a town situated on the Lebanese-Syrian border, many Syrians who initially faced imminent threats from armed militias are now experiencing socio-economic challenges instead.  Refugees in the town continue to deal with lack of legal residency, restrictions on their freedom of movement, and random arrests. As noted by Nadim Houry, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, “conditions in Arsal have gotten so bad that many refugees have decided to go back into a war zone.” Such account is quite representative of the broader issue. Thus the hope for a large-scale, imminent return to “safe zones” or former metropolitan areas, may be premature.