Taxing The Syrian Refugees

Self-imposed curfews were not enough for some municipalities in Lebanon when it comes to the growing presence of Syrians in the country and within their bounds.

Some are now considering the possibility of taxing those Syrians as well with amounts that are simply nonsensical for a poor refugee who can barely afford his or her rent: 100,000LL for just seeking residence inside the town.

The rationale behind these taxes is that these Syrians are treated like Lebanese citizens in those municipalities, by which they probably mean their garbage being collected occasionally. Except that those Syrians cannot even take out their garbage after 9 pm or a policeman would force them back to whichever door they came out from because they’re definitely up to no good if they’re walking the streets past their imposed “bedtime.”

I’m not against foreigners paying municipal taxes if municipalities are providing those foreigners, regardless of their nationalities, with the basic rights it’s providing to its voting citizens. I hardly think my and the potential tax money of Syrian refugees is going to any development. Municipalities are, more often than none, only a tool for political parties to flex their muscles every six years and for people not to get over it until the next election cycle rolls by.

However, are the Syrian foreigners – refugees or not – being treated the same as Lebanese citizens? I can already hear the laughter. At least I can make plans and go out past 9 pm. And isn’t the timing of said-taxes highly inappropriate, inhumane and downright despicable?

Municipalities, starting with mine, keep on coming up with ways to make the lives of people who don’t want to even be here a living hell. What’s their limit in tightening the noose on the Syrians who live within their jurisdiction when the perceived security threat of those Syrians is exaggerated to say the least? As long as mayors feel like they’re flexing their muscles and their citizens get a sense of fake-safety, anything goes.


The Lebanese Anti-Syrian “Racism”

“I am apprehensive about the situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”

The aforementioned sentence is enough to get a baggage of racism be thrown on your shoulder by people who believe you are not allowed to address the refugee issue in any way whatsoever unless it is to say they are more than welcome here without anything affixed to that.

The recent surge against all those racist Lebanese comes after an online Annahar video which you can watch here:

The report is very poorly done. Are they seriously filming a ten year old and asking him what he thinks of the Syrian refugees in the country and taking what he said as relevant enough to actually be included?

The way many of the people in the above video formulated their opinion regarding the refugees is unacceptable. But what is also unacceptable is for others to say that the concerns these people tried to convey are 1) racist and 2) invalid. Because, you know, Lebanon is very new to refugees. Those Syrians are obviously the first people we host and their problems are so new we cannot even begin to think dealing with them because of their novelty factor.

It is not only normal to have concerns regarding the refugee situation in Lebanon, it is, in my opinion, the sane thing to do. We cannot keep pretending that 1,000,000 Syrians in the country (Or 300,000 according to UN) is a walk in the park, with no prospective effects and no current effects in any way.

If you mention the Lebanese people who lost their rented homes because their landlords got better offers from Syrians, you are racist. If you mention the jobs that skillful Syrian physicians, accountants, architects and whatnot took out of Lebanese people, you are racist. The list goes on. It is obviously not the Syrians’ fault but it is an effect that some people don’t want to allow us to discuss. Because racism, racism everywhere.

When does this categorization of Lebanese who are critical of the current situation stop?

On the other hand, the categorization against the Syrians is unacceptable as well. Our country’s problems are not dependent on them and them alone. Not feeling safe while walking on a street is not because of the Syrians but because Lebanon is not a safe country with or without them. You can read this story that a friend of mine had to go through while walking in Gemmayze (link). The economical situation in the country is less the fault of the refugees and more the fault of politicians who are perpetuating the current political instability.

The borders should not and will not be closed for they are non existent and it would be grossly inhumane. The Syrians don’t want to come here. They are forced to come here. There is no way to regulate their influx as I had said before (link). They are here knocking at our doors with a riffle in their backs. If we don’t let them in, they get shot. There is no Syrian civilian entry to Lebanon that is not an emergency. The only thing that we, as Lebanese, can do regarding the refugees is have discussions.

The Syrians hosted some of our people in 2006. Of course they did. And we are thankful. But them hosting us back then is akin to a billionaire giving a poor person $100 and asking him to be eternally grateful for that. They were able to handle the thousands of Lebanese that entered their territory for a period of about three weeks.

Lebanon, a country that can’t even handle someone like Ahmad el Assir or even the poverty of people in places like Bab el Tebbane and Akkar and the South, cannot handle one million extra person who need help.

It is a Lebanese’s right to be wary and worried and apprehensive. The way that worried Lebanese formulates his or her worry and apprehension may differ and it may be unacceptable but those who don’t feel this way are similar to an ostrich with its head so far down the sand it can’t even manage to get it out anymore.

Now cue in those will call me racist. They wish….

The Uncontrolled Influx of Syrian Refugees to Lebanon Must Stop

It’s very easy to be taken by enticing principles about humanitarian needs to keep allowing Syrian refugees uncontrolled entry to Lebanon.

It’s very easy to get angry at anyone asking that the influx of Syrian refugees into the country be stopped or controlled. How could you? The Syrians helped us in 2006. The Syrians are being murdered by their own regime in the thousands.

As if we don’t know.

This is not about Gebran Bassil’s recent “remarks.” This is about the people.

In the region of Bab el Tebbaneh in Northern Lebanon, a few tens of thousands of Lebanese live in stinking conditions – even worse than the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s 12 camps. Are those Lebanese not living in non-humanitarian conditions as well? Shouldn’t those Lebanese be more important to us than anyone else, especially if we were to allocate non-existent resources to better life conditions?

Further north from Bab el Tebbaneh is Akkar, a region that few of us want to even include in Lebanon. Akkar has a lot of Syrian refugees living in horrible conditions. It also has many more Lebanese living in worse conditions. When the Lebanese state has washed its hands of its own people, what can we expect regarding people whose strife the Lebanese government has also washed its hands of?

The most recent numbers regarding Syrian refugees are troubling – 190,000 that include 15,000 Palestinian, adding to Lebanon’s existent population of almost 500,000 Palestinian refugees. I won’t go on and on about demographic changes and naturalization talk because they are 1) irrelevant and 2) not going to happen. Ever.

What needs to be talked about is our ability as a country which can’t take care of its own people to handle almost 700,000 refugees, 190,000 of which are very recent.

The answer is a succinct and quite honest: no way.

Lebanon’s ruling class either talks about closing off an undemarcated border – good luck with that – or about keeping our non-controlled borders in their regular state. They talk about the refugee situation ruining our elections and our society fabric. Frankly, I don’t think they have a clue what they’re talking about. My point of view is not that of Lebanon’s current ruling class which exudes racism with every single word spoken, it is that of one who thinks the families of those refugees deserve better.

Lebanon does not have the ability to handle the Syrian refugees entering its land. We don’t have the ability to give them a better life than the one in their country. We don’t have the ability to keep them safe against families that would kidnap them for negotiation purposes. We don’t have the ability to keep them safe from impeding storms and blizzards that are about to hit our country. We don’t have the ability to ensure their humanitarian rights in any way whatsoever.

So what’s the point?

Do we keep bringing in Syrian refugees into the country to let them die of the cold here? To let them die of thirst here? To let them die of hunger here?

Why are we the only country in the region where the regulation of refugees has to be an obscenely shocking manner while Jordan and Iraq have either shut off their borders completely or regulated the influx into their land? It seems we are the only country who must have everything turn into a controversy.

The Syrian refugees need to stop coming into Lebanon for their own good because we, as a country, will slowly kill them. The solution for the Syrian refugees is for other countries in the region that have no problem shoving Arabism down our throats to man up and host refugees as well – countries which have the resources to build camps and compounds, provide the refugees with shelter and food. I’m looking at the countries of the Gulf, those countries which can’t wait but “stand by their Muslim brothers and sisters” by speech only.

This is not a utopia as some of Lebanon’s politicians want you to believe. We don’t live in a country that can swell to accommodate whichever numbers you throw into it. We are a country that can’t take care of its own people. We are a country that can’t apply the basic laws that should be there to regulate our own lives. We are a country that can’t possibly host refugees. We are a country that’s slowly killing the refugees in it because there’s really nothing else we can do. Do you really want to bring more people in need to our toxic environment?

It is here that I remember the Syrian woman and her two children who died of the cold in Hamra, one of Beirut’s classier districts, a couple of months ago. May they – and all the Syrian refugees dying like them – rest in peace.