It is hard to imagine that a minor skirmish at a Syrian refugee camp would lead to evacuating and shutting an entire campsite but rising social and racial tensions between the Lebanese population and asylum seekers has made that a reality.
With Lebanon’s sinking economy generating social anxieties towards refugees stealing jobs from locals, any small disagreement poses the threat of evolving into a lawsuit.
Last week, in the north-eastern town of Deir el Ahmar, angry Syrians took to slinging rocks at a Lebanese Civil Defence fire fighter truck for taking too long to arrive at an arson site. This led to a public riot that took down refugee tents set up at the town’s gates.
As enraged locals set shelters housing refugees on fire, Syrians were told to leave town grounds within 24 hours. The deadline was later extended to allow refugees enough time to pack their belongings and get their personal affairs in order.
Deir el Ahmar’s Syrian Refugee Camp
In Deir el Ahmar, the refugee camp, which accommodated some 750 Syrians in 90 makeshift tents, was turned into a ghost town with only a few walking around packing their possessions to leave.
“I spent the night packing whatever I have left and without knowing where next I’m going,” a widowed Syrian refugee, who is a mother of three and who requested anonymity, told a 7Dnews correspondent.
Unknown perpetrators had set her tent, alongside two others, on fire.
Commenting on the fire with a voice full of sadness, the widow said. “All the money I had saved up in Lebanon, which amounts to around $100, went up in flames alongside the tent which my relatives had bought for me in the first place.”
Another victim of the violent outbreak in Deir el Ahmar was Ahmed, who when packing his luggage into a cab said he did not know where he was going.
“I was headed to Laat, a town nearby, but the mayor there refused hosting any refugee,” Ahmed told 7Dnews.
Hate Speech Could Push Matters Beyond Breaking Point
Lately, anti-Syrian racism and hate speech has become increasingly popular all over Lebanon, where a swarm of politicians and parties launched campaigns against Syrian labour.
Elaborating on the Deir el Ahmar case, Lebanese professor and psychologist, Mona Fayyad, said it was likely that it will be repeated in other areas. She traced the high chances of reoccurrence to two reasons: the first being inflammatory hate speech employed by some politicians and, secondly, the ever-worsening economic situation in Lebanon.
Fayyad, in an interview with 7Dnews, stressed that the Syrian refugee crisis has taken a heavy toll on the economic situation in Lebanon.
But despite the staggeringly high influx of refugees, Fayyad warned that it is not the cause of the economic crisis.
“What some politicians are propagandising about refugees being behind the crisis is not accurate,” she said.
On social counts of violence against refugees, Fayyad said, “When the economic situation worsens, joblessness spreads, and the economic burden on people increases, problems arise between the citizens themselves, let alone the refugees, especially when they are regarded as the main driver of the crisis.”
After being the target of countless waves of hate speech, the Syrians who attacked the firefighting truck were under the impression that it arrived late purposely because it was heading to a refugee camp. This, in turn, did not play well with Lebanese locals, who in turn, were fed anti-refugee hate propaganda.
Deir el Ahmar Mayor, Lutfi Al-Qazah, for his part, said his town had welcomed thousands of refugees that, at some points, outnumbered Lebanese locals.
According to Qazah, asylum seekers who were willing to work as cheap labour had stolen jobs from locals in the construction and agricultural fields.
Addressing the backlash directed against Deir el Ahmar citizens for driving Syrian refugees out, the mayor said, “It is unjust to accuse the people of the town of racism, what they did was a reaction to what the refugees had done.”
“What happened was in the heat of the moment. Since they first came to town, refugees have been involved in some sort of trouble with locals daily…the attack on the civil defence vehicle simply pushed the people beyond their breaking point.”