Number of Syrians in Lebanon Reaches 920,000

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Official government sources estimate that 920,000 Syrians are now in Lebanon, a number that poses a danger to the country’s stability, reports Marlene Khalifeh.

According to Lebanese government sources, more than 920,000 Syrians (both migrant workers and persons displaced from the war) are now in Lebanon. The security problems are getting worse in many areas in Lebanon because many of these Syrians are armed. Western diplomats in Lebanon have praised the Lebanese government for its cooperation and for not closing the Lebanese-Syrian border, just as they have praised the Lebanese people for hosting displaced Syrian families.

But some Western ambassadors have begun to warn Lebanese officials that the displaced Syrians now constitute a “powder keg,” especially since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents have started thinking of forming armed militias in Lebanon, risking a war between them and the Lebanese. (There are precise figures about the armed Syrians, which show they are all over Lebanon, including the capital.)

According to Western circles, the gravity of the issue is pressuring the Lebanese government to keep a close eye on displaced Syrians in Lebanon. These Western circles told As-Safir that the Syrian crisis could spread to Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati is consistent with the Western officials he meets (most recently, British Foreign Secretary William Hague when he visited Lebanon, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in Davos). He has given Western countries three options: to close the border with Syria, which is impossible for practical and geographic reasons, especially since 80% of the Lebanese border is shared with Syria; to transfer some of those displaced to other countries or for Lebanon to be quickly given material aid as its humanitarian burden grows.

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Of course, the third option is preferred by Western countries and the UN, even though they are very slow in providing the funds promised at the conference for displaced Syrians in Kuwait.

Circles close to Mikati told As-Safir that “the disbursement of funds is very slow. Lebanon is in immediate need of $370 million but all we have received so far are promises.” The two countries that generally keep their promises of money are “Kuwait and the UAE, which are giving large amounts of money for the displaced.”

It seems that the West is using the aid for the displaced as a kind of sword hanging over the Lebanese government’s head, especially when Syrians are deported for committing offenses. For example, three months ago, the Lebanese judiciary ordered the deportation of 12 Syrians, two of which were accused of rape. There was an uproar at Western embassies, human rights organizations and international bodies. They opposed the deportation as it contradicts the Declaration of Human Rights and “the right of the displaced to be protected.”

Mikati is trying to clarify Lebanon’s perspective regarding this matter to Western and UN officials, who warn him that the Syrian crisis could spread to Lebanon. Mikati tells them that “for Lebanon to avoid the dangers next door in Syria, Lebanese security and judicial authorities should not be prevented from enforcing Lebanese laws. The danger cannot be avoided if Lebanese authorities do not have the right to arrest someone who commits an offense.” This is according to circles close to the prime minister. Those same circles also say that “some Westerners and human rights organizations have a preconceived notion that any Syrian who is arrested is an opponent of the Assad regime.”

Recently, Westerners have started to realize the danger of blowing the issue out of proportion, its negative effects on Lebanon and on its dissociation policy amid three international and regional crises that have direct repercussions on Lebanon: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Iranian issue (in both its nuclear and its regional aspects) and the Syrian crisis. Lebanon should, at the very least, be assisted in preventing repercussions from Syria.

Regarding the arming of the displaced and the security risks that that entails, the sources emphasize that there are 920,000 Syrians in Lebanon, many of whom have undergone compulsory military training in Syria. If they acquire weapons, then they would constitute armies that could both fight the Syrian regime, and support that regime in Lebanon.

Those close to Mikati added, “We used to say that Hezbollah’s weapons could not cause a civil war because there are no weapons facing it. But today, it is possible to create an army that is trained and ready to fight Hezbollah, a situation which would bring the Sunni-Shiite conflict to Lebanon. Therefore, the dissociation policy that all the political forces have endorsed has become critical and should be immediately put into practice, not just in theory.”

Mikati’s circles add that Lebanon is unstable and that the Lebanese should be very careful in taking political positions. Special security measures are also required because 920,000 Syrians (less than 100,000 of which have enough money to take care of themselves) is a very large number, given the size of Lebanon’s population.

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