Lebanon and Syria have been hit by an unprecedented wave of a sudden, overwhelming and traumatic migration. While this means a loss for Syria and a gain for Lebanon in human capital, both countries have faced a variety of unforeseen challenges in historically troubled countries within an unruly and seemingly unmanageable region. This essay will briefly detail some of the many challenges that have been imposed on Syria as a sending country, Lebanon as a receiving country, and the refugees themselves in the midst of political turmoil. Respecting the fact that the migrants’ reasoning for leaving in such large numbers is accountable to the fact that war has been plaguing the Syrian nation, leaving many families no other option than leaving, the essay will use the terms migrant and refugee interchangeably. Due to the fact that Syria is indulged in a complex, sectarian and ongoing war, exact figures and results are proving themselves difficult to obtain. Nonetheless, the case of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has been reported on widely for reasons including the fact that Lebanon itself is closely tied to Syria and has many political aspects in common, i.e. nepotism, which has hindered both countries in dealing with sudden problems such as the refugee wave.
Syria’s civil war starting in 2011 has caused immense amounts of damage both to the country and the people. Syria’s neighbour, Lebanon, has been at the forefront of the refugee influx, currently hosting an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees (Rabil, 2016). Numbers this high undoubtedly have profound and lasting effects on Syria as a sending country with vast amounts of people leaving in a short period of time. Due to the massive outflux of people during the war with little plan on rebuilding the country and society, one of the consequences is the brain drain which threatens to depopulate Syria, depriving the country of its valuable human capital (Goldin et. al, 2011). Syria’s educated were some of the first to flee when the civil war started at the beginning of the decade, presumably because they would have been unproductive in the country of the Assad regime in the wake of civil unrest (Christophersen, 2018). Syria now lacks a sufficient skill base in the private and public sectors, a phenomenon that hinders both Syria’s and Lebanon’s intentions for retrieval of brain gain in Syria brought by a returning populace once acquiring a sufficient amount of financial stability and advanced skillset (Goldin et. al, 2011). Moreover, Syria, alongside Jordan and Lebanon, is among the highest recipients of remittances in the world in proportion to their GDP. An advantageous contribution to a household in Syria, receiving households will generally invest more in human capital and the education of their children than their non-receiving counterparts (Chaaban et. al, 2012). Goldin argues that every dollar in remittance spending creates two to three dollars of income in the country of the migrant’s origin (Goldin et. al, 2011). Should this work in accordance with Syria’s financial system, the money generated will be recycled back into its economy, gradually and exponentially growing its potential. In contrast, if Syria’s dire system of nepotism takes over, the concept of a stabilising economy could be imminently discarded and the old, albeit unpopular system, would prevail (Göransson, 2018). This would potentially keep Syria in a cycle of outward migration and a subsequent brain drain, deteriorating chances of integration into the global market, and an inevitable economic crash resulting in an ongoing conflict.
Lebanon is considered a primary receiving country and is at the forefront of the refugee wave, as it is closely related to Syria in terms of economics, politics as well as geographically. This has led to a variety of consequences, in which the negatives seemingly outweigh the positives. The costs of a large number of migrants in relation to the relatively small native population can be highly visible and localised, especially if we consider the Syrian migrants as refugees, often arriving in Lebanon en masse and with little intention for a long-term settlement (Parkes, 2015). This lack of intention, arguably triggered by xenophobia and regulations serving to diminish Syrian refugees’ access to the Lebanese labour market, has meant that Lebanon remains unable to unlock the huge economic potential Syrian migrants might have been able to contribute (Holmes, 2013). According to Lebanon’s interior minister, Marwan Charbel, refugees threaten the security of Lebanon and pose a threat to the already scarce resources of a heavily polluted country (Christophersen, 2018). One argument brought forward was that the presence of refugees in the informal settlements had a vastly negative impact on the natural resources. Accountable to the fact that the settlements are informal and located near water sources, the waste generated by the people in the camps integrate into the environment around them, negatively impacting the water, air and land quality (Rabil, 2016). While the interior minister upholds the notion that refugees are a burden and not a potential blessing, the International Monetary Fund has proclaimed the weak policymaking by the Lebanese government more of a burden than the influx itself. Traditionally a trade-based economy, Lebanon has been more severely hit by the economic impositions placed upon it as a repercussion attributable to the Syrian war than the refugees themselves. Export routes have been blocked catalysing a sharp decline in consumer confidence in addition to the decaying investor sentiment (Holmes, 2013). Lebanon’s historically famous tourism, banking, and trading industries have been hit badly, especially as the refugee wave escalated simultaneously to the economic stagnation which hit Lebanon’s government finances (Rabil, 2016). Lebanon’s politicians and population have turned to increase attempts to isolate their refugee population in the hopes they can drive the refugees away. The policymaking of the government itself appears to be largely ignored in the debate around the refugee problem.
While there is a lot of discussion around the impacts migrants have on their country of origin and country of destination, the impact migration itself has on a person can be detrimental to both the person and their surroundings. A country rich in ethnic, religious, and financial diversity, Syrian refugees, in particular, are reported to be struggling in Lebanon. While Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have designated refugee camps, Syrian refugees are predominantly being hosted in informal settlements or host communities in some of Lebanon’s economically deprived areas (Christophersen, 2018). These deprived areas are often situated in the Northern and Southern districts of Lebanon, districts lacking sufficient infrastructure and plagued by criminal activity. The already deprived areas of Lebanon have expressed the most dissatisfaction in taking on Syrian refugees (Rabil, 2016). The social marginalisation of the Syrian refugees resulting in a refusal from the government to provide job permits, and thus endorsed a socioeconomic disadvantage, has led to Syrians opting for desperate measures to financially support themselves. One such measure witnessed increasingly and repeatedly is the Syrian refugee women turning to sex work. Prostitution being illegal in Lebanon, these women often receive criminal records upon arrest, which in turn worsen already bleak chances of employment (BBC, 2017). According to the UN, women are already the primary victims of displacement and war (Zheng, 2015). Their worsening situation after displacement more often than not contributes to their downward assimilation, often lasting until the next generation and beyond (Goldin et. al, 2011). In addition, the living situation for refugees in an already densely populated country such a Lebanon is often crowded, unsanitary, and lacks infrastructure connecting them to the urbanised parts of the country. Given the situation, Syrians in Lebanon are vulnerable to stress, depression and in more recent times, susceptible to infectious outbreaks (Goldin et. al, 2011). For this reason, refugees in north-eastern Lebanon are reporting the daily struggle attempting to contain the infectious disease Cov-Sars-19. Living on less than 40 litres of water a day per tent as well as the tents being less than one metre apart from each other, refugees are among the most vulnerable in the world in the wake of a pandemic as widespread as Covid-19 (el-Azar, 2020). The already lacking medical facilities in Lebanon paired with the undocumented status of many of the refugees has resulted in fewer applications for medical assistance which has resulted in refugees currently living in a constant state of stress, which almost certainly contributes to the abovementioned challenges of a hazardous journey on a personal level.
All things considered, both Lebanon and Syria are still suffering economically. This means Lebanon has failed to unlock the economic potential refugees could carry because the country has failed to organise accordingly within its own political system. By falsely identifying the problems, Lebanon has hindered itself in development within the country as well as its position in the region. Syria still operating its politics through nepotism has meant that Syria’s system has remained what it was unpopular for, once again meaning it has failed to adequately meet the needs of the potentially returning populace in addition to its investors. This has prevented Syria from unlocking the potential that could catalyse Syria into a new position of economic strength in the Levant. This in turn could eventually rebuild the country, regaining its cultural glory. Migrants suffering the consequences of the decisions made by both countries have meant many are still living in inhumane conditions numerous years later from the first arrival. As if these conditions hadn’t posed enough sanitary problems, the novel Coronavirus pandemic has left a large community in a constant state of stress as the burden of the unknown future haunts it.
BBC (2017) ‘The Syrian refugees turning to Sex to survive – BBC News’, BBC, March 23. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZqHUBkLv4E (Accessed: 3rd May 2020)
Chaaban, J. and Mansour, W. (2012) The Impact of Remittances on Education in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Available at: http://erf.org.eg/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/684.pdf (Accessed: 3rd May 2020)
Christophersen, M. (2018) Report Part Title: Mitigating the Impact of the War in Syria and the Influx of Syrian Refugees. Available at: https://0-www-jstor-org.emu.londonmet.ac.uk/stable/pdf/resrep17506.7.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_SYC-5152%2Ftest&refreqid=search%3A4ff38f1e21b3fd984fe51b8022036e12 (Accessed: 5th May 2020)
El-Azar, S. (2020) ‘Inside the Lebanon refugee camps bracing for coronavirus’, The Independent, Beirut, April 3. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/coronavirus-lebanon-refugee-camps-syria-palestine-video-a9446851.html (Accessed: 6th May)
Goldin, I. and Cameron, G. and Balarajan, M. (2011) Exceptional People. US: Princeton University Press, pp. 162-210
Göransson, M. (2018) Apping and resilience: How smartphones help Syrian refugees in Lebanon negotiate the precarity of displacement. Available at: https://0-www-jstor-org.emu.londonmet.ac.uk/stable/pdf/resrep21314.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_SYC-5152%2Ftest&refreqid=search%3A7a70ca626b42d63ab687b60f5e2d0f90 (Accessed: 5th May 2020)
Holmes, O. (2013) ‘Syrian Refugees Burden and Benefit for Lebanese Economy’, REUTERS, Beirut, April 17. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-crisis-lebanon-refugees/syrian-refugees-burden-and-benefit-for-lebanese-economy-idUSBRE93G0MW20130417 (Accessed: 5th May 2020)
Parkes, R. (2015) Migration: New ‘push’ and ‘Pull dynamics. Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies, pp. 1-4
Rabil, R. (2016) The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: The Double Tragedy of Refugees and Impacted Host Communities. London: Lexington Books, pp. 1, 11, 109
Zheng, S. (2015) Refugees and internally displaced persons. United Nations. Available at: https://unstats.un.org/unsd/genderstatmanual/Print.aspx?Page=Refugees-and-internally-displaced-persons (Accessed: 5th May 2020)