Syrian refugees sheltering in the Lebanon are complaining about how new state crackdowns are crippling their daily lives, and how they are made to feel increasingly unwelcome.
The Lebanese government has recently activated a series of Lebanese laws that seemingly target Syrian labour, a move that is being described as “the implicit attempt to force refugees’ return.”
For Syrian refugees, the situation has become a choice of either packing up and leaving or facing starvation.
Adil Barakeh, 27, is a Syrian refugee who sells produce off a mobile grocery wagon in the Beirut southern suburbs. He was recently put out of work after municipal officers confiscated his cart for selling without a permit.
Explaining why he did not apply for a license, Barakeh said: “it is difficult for any Syrian to acquire a permit, not just refugees.”
Syrian refugees have also voiced their discontent towards being the direct target of Lebanese labour protection laws, which are being championed and lobbied for by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the largest party in the Lebanese parliament.
On Friday May 24th, an internal security forces unit raided a chain of commercial shops in the Mount Lebanon governorate in search of foreigners working illegally.
In that raid, two groceries and a barbershop were shut down.
Apart from the searches, new limits were slapped on those holding a courtesy residence status, temporary residence permits that are granted to arab and foreign immigrants married to Lebanese women.
They are no longer allowed to work with their current status and are required to obtain a regular working permit.
The compilation of such measures signals that Lebanese authorities have taken an exceptional decision to clamp down on Syrians refugees, a move that has long been threatened by FPM politicians and other parties, who see an urgency in the need to regulate working conditions of Syrians on Lebanese soil.
On the other hand, unnamed ministerial sources ruled out Syrians being singled out by the restrictions, saying the authorities are just working to restore and apply the rule of law.
“Syrians are facing the same treatment other foreign workers are,” the sources told 7Dnews, stressing that “no one is above the law.”
“We aren’t barring anyone from working so long that they comply with laws and regulations,” they added.
According to the economy & trade ministry, the majority of unlicensed Syrian vendors are selling sweets, cell phone accessories, clothes, nuts, agricultural produce and meats.
Raed Khoury, former minister of economy and trade, had previously stressed that unregulated Syrian workers weigh heavily on Lebanon’s economic growth. He also emphasized that it was not a subject for partisan quarrel, but a national dilemma that affects all Lebanese people.
Lebanese economic institutions say that Lebanon's unemployment rate has risen as a result of the massive influx of Syrian refugees, who have abruptly raised market competiveness and depressed employment rates.
According to a study by the BLOMINVEST Bank, joblessness in Lebanon has almost doubled post-2011, reaching 20%.
Citing the Lebanon Crisis response Plan or LCRP 2017-2020, the study added that the Syrian workforce totals 384,000 persons, and may have dis-employed 270,000 Lebanese.
Another study prepared by the economy & trade ministry back in 2017, showed that the Syrian crisis had cost the Lebanese economy $ 18 billion between 2011 and 2017.
Struggling with massive unemployment, poverty-stricken Lebanese make up 53% of the population in the north, 48% in the south and 30% in the Bekaa Valley region.
The expansion of the economy, and the promotion of exports, remains the best solution to create jobs for youth, former labour minister, Mohammad Kabbara said, when social strains began to emerge as a consequence of the incoming refugees.
Crediting the plan to increase exports to president Michel Aoun, prime minister Saad Hariri, and to government efforts, Kabbara said it was also devised to reduce the brain drain of Lebanon’s fresh graduates.
Other than the closure of Syrian businesses and tightening of labour restrictions, refugees are citing other incidents that advocate for the theory that they are being treated as though they have overstayed their welcome.
On Thursday May 23, Syrian refugees in the Arsal region said they were informed of June 10 being the deadline for them to remove all unlawful cement structures built in camps.
They reported military forces moving to remove the units even before the deadline had arrived.
Syrian refugees were informed of the decision to remove the cement structures at a town hall meeting held in Laboueh village, Baalback governorate. The meeting was attended by representatives from the ministry of interior, municipalities, and the UNHCR and Arsal refugee camps.
It is either that the Syrians themselves take down the concrete structures in camps, or the Lebanese army will implement the decision.
This leaves thousands of Syrians living in flimsy tents that are vulnerable against harsh weather conditions.
A Syrian refugee mother, who requested anonymity, said she was prepared to remove the cement structure, but explained her family had initially infringed the law to “protect themselves from icicles during freezing winters and from swarms of insects.”
Despite challenges, the decision will be carried out across all Syrian refugee camps in the Bekaa region. While concrete structures are being torn down in some camps, other camps reported facing suspicious power outages.