Pierre Maroun: The Syrian Refugees Crisis and Lebanon’s Options/بيار مارون: أزمة النازحين السوريين والخيارات اللبنانية


بيار مارون: أزمة النازحين السوريين والخيارات اللبنانية

The Syrian Refugees Crisis and Lebanon’s Options.
Pierre Maroun/Jabalana Magazine/April 29/2023

Lebanon remains the country that is hosting the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. Reliable sources are estimating that 1.5 million Syrian refugees are present in the country. This influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, which increased in the last few years has had a profound impact on Lebanon, a country already struggling with its own socio-economic challenges. The crisis has resulted in a rapid deterioration in the living conditions of not only Syrian refugees but the Lebanese population as well.

According to various research and official figures, the Syrian crisis has had negative repercussions on the economy and the labor market. This comes at a time when economic growth has slowed, private investments have been reduced, the trade deficit has expanded, and real estate and tourism- the two most important sectors-have declined. Therefore, stronger support for the Lebanese vulnerable communities is urgently needed at this most crucial time.

While there is no quick fix for the crises, there are, however, feasible solutions to these problems. For example, here are some possible options:

1. International aid and support: Lebanon could seek financial support from international organizations, donor countries, and other sources to invest in its infrastructure. This would require a coordinated effort from the Lebanese government and international partners to identify priority areas for investment. However, one must note that the IMF has provided the Lebanese government with a list of reforms, which must be implemented before the international community is willing to provide aid or loans for Lebanon.

2. Private Sector Partnership: To circumvent the International Aid problem, Lebanon could leverage private sector investment to fund infrastructure projects. Public-private partnerships could be a way to attract investment and expertise to infrastructure projects, while also sharing risks and rewards between the public and private sectors. This may work well with the Lebanese expatriate communities which are willing and able to help their ancestral homeland. However, trust between the corrupt Lebanese government and Expatriates must be re-established. This is important especially since many Expatriates have lost their investments and lifetime savings during the collapse of the Lebanese banking system. Thus, there must be a kind of collateral measure put in place to secure the rights of private investors. One important matter would be to involve Lebanese Expatriates in government decision-making.

3. Prioritization and Competence: Lebanon could prioritize infrastructure investments based on their potential impact and return on investment. This would require a strategic approach to infrastructure planning and investment, as well as efficiency in project implementation and management. Here, too, Expatriates experts and investors may be part of the decision-making process.

4. Regional Cooperation: Lebanon could also explore opportunities for regional cooperation on infrastructure investment. For example, regional infrastructure projects could be jointly funded and managed by multiple countries, which could help reduce costs and increase efficiency. However, for this to work out, Lebanon must first mend its relationships with the Gulf states, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by adopting neutrality vis-à-vis the Middle East conflicts. This is feasible since KSA and Iran have been normalizing diplomatic relations. As for the Arab Israeli conflict, many Arab countries have signed peace treaties with Israel, while many others are negotiating terms and conditions of similar treaties. Therefore, war with Israel is unlikely and the need for a “resistance” is unnecessary. The Lebanese Army is sufficient to control the borders.

In fact, the maritime demarcation agreement between Lebanon and Israel is considered a peace agreement by the International Community. For example, Section 1, Article E, states, “The Parties (Lebanon and Israel), agree that this Agreement, including as described n Section 1 (B), establishes a permanent and equitable resolution of their maritime dispute.” The emphasis is mine.

Furthermore, Section 4, Article A of said Agreement states, “The Parties intend to resolve any differences concerning the interpretation and the implementation of this Agreement through discussion facilitated by the United States.”

In addition, Section 4, article B affirms, “This Agreement shall enter into force on the date on which the Government of the United States of America sends the notice, based on the text in Annex D to this letter, in which it confirms that each Party has agreed to the terms herein stipulated.” Consequently, since the international community will enforce and will guarantee these terms, it makes it a binding treaty.

Ultimately, investing in infrastructure is essential for short- and long-term economic growth and development in Lebanon. Thus, the Lebanese politicians must implement the constitution by electing a president, and by starting the necessary political and economic reforms requested by the IMF. In addition, Lebanon must improve its relationships with its Arab neighbors, and it must build a trusting bridge with its expatriate communities.

Having said all that, the best solution to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon is a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria, which would allow refugees to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. Until then, supporting refugees in Lebanon and their host communities through investment is essential to ensuring the safety and well-being of all. As for the Lebanese who fear the settling of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, one must note that only the sovereign Lebanese government can provide citizenships to any foreigners, including refugees. The UN has no authority over the host country’s policies and laws.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Military must take control of the camps and must continue to deport all Syrians who are taking advantage of their refugee status. Furthermore, Syrians who have been moving back and forth between Lebanon and Syria, which is evidence that their lives are not endangered, must lose their refugee status and must be deported back to Syria. On the other hand, the UN must keep the well-being of the Lebanese people in mind, and it must not compromise the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.

Furthermore, the latest hostile misconduct of many Syrian refugees who called their fellow refugees to arm themselves is a reckless and dangerous act, which may lead to chaos, and probably war. This is especially true since some Lebanese have responded in kind to these threats. Such misconduct will not bring a solution to the deteriorating economic crisis in Lebanon, and it will not resolve the Syrian refugee predicament in Lebanon, which many began to view as an occupation. Besides, some third parties may have been taking advantage of the situation to exert pressure on the Lebanese parliament to elect a certain presidential candidate or to expect disorder. Such threats must end.

Lastly, the Lebanese and the Syrian people must realize that once peace is reestablished in Syria, rebuilding the country will require a significant amount of manpower and resources. This could provide abundant opportunities for Syrian refugees who have been displaced to return to their homes and participate in the rebuilding process. This would also contribute to the overall economic and social development of Lebanon.

*Pierre A. Maroun – President of SOUL (Shield of United Lebanon), USA