As if all it takes is an online petition to the US state department and the United Nationsto "rid" Lebanon of its refugee crisis, over 20,000 signatories signed a petition calling for "Syrian refugees to leave Lebanon and return to safe zones in Syria".
While the petition is sloppily written, it is an important reflection of what goes on in the hearts and minds of a portion of the Lebanese public, who view the refugee crisis as an economic, security and demographic threat that "might lead to serious altercations between the [Syrian refugees and Lebanese people]".
The petition comes in the context of a rise in anti-refugee discourse in the country, from Syrian businesses being shut down in some municipalities, to a banner threatening to "cut the hands" of Syrians if they threaten Lebanese livelihood, and even a fake news story about 300,000 new refugee births in 2017 that raised the alarm about resulting demographic changes.
Such voices are certainly not representative of the Lebanese people as a whole. Many Lebanese activists, lawyers and groups have done their best to help Syrian refugees in their "temporary home" as they await a settlement that would allow them to return home.
Lebanon is the country hosting the most refugees per capita. This fact rightly deserves attention and international support, but it has also been exploited domestically to scapegoat refugees as the main culprits for the dire state of affairs in the country.
Anti-refugee rhetoric can be seen as a symptom of much larger problems Lebanon is currently facing, as its government is unable to hold parliamentary elections on time, reform state institutions, fight corruption and nepotism, and agree on a unified foreign policy as sharp divisions remain surrounding Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian war.
Consequently, these legitimate frustrations have been projected onto the Syrian refugees who have become a convenient scapegoat for disgruntled citizens and incompetent politicians. This phenomenon is not unique to Lebanon, as we have seen similar discourse in Europe and the United States as a facade for economic grievances, in addition to being an expression of forthright racism and xenophobia.
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