By Nayla Tueni
Damascus’ allies and media outlets which support the Syrian regime keep reminding Lebanon how Syria provided shelter for Lebanese refugees during conflicts; Israeli invasions and other wars on our land.
They keep reminding us how Syria hosted around 1 million Lebanese during several phases of our modern history and how Syria treated them properly and provided them with humanitarian services just like it did for its own citizens and Palestinian refugees residing there.
This could be true, and there could be more to it. We do not attempt to deny it, and we only seek to return this favor to the Syrian people. But the problem lies in numbers and capabilities.
Past refugee experiences
To begin with, Lebanon suffers from the problem of the Palestinian refugees who arrived in Lebanon on a temporary basis and later became a permanent threat to stability and a heavy burden that struck all sectors. Lebanon fears a repeat of this experience with Syrian refugees if the domestic war there lasts longer.
The problem is not linked to some observer opinions that believe there is racism, intolerance between the two countries. And we cannot hold the Syrian people responsible for the repercussions of intelligence and security practices of its regime.
The calls made by the president on this matter are not racist. We must not be intimidated by the random accusations made against Lebanon because these accusations aim towards political bickering.
The problem today is understood through numbers. It is easy for Syria to host 25 or 28 million people. But for Lebanon to host a million or two millions, as some estimations say, in addition to half a million Palestinian refugees, this means the number is equal to 50 percent of Lebanon’s population. This means a crack in Lebanon’s structure and stability on the levels of security, economy and health. The effects on these areas have already begun to emerge.
I don’t think Lebanon has more capabilities than Turkey, Jordan and other countries which specified the number of refugees arriving as per its capabilities and per the Arab and international aid they receive. Lebanon however resumes its internal political bickering and thus does not come up with a plan for the upcoming stage. Lebanon may have either overcome the current refugee crisis or it is fleeing forwards from its repercussions. But it will not be able to do so if the crisis in Syria prolongs, and in turn Lebanon’s crisis will affect citizens as well as refugees.
The calls made by the president on this matter are not racist. We must not be intimidated by the random accusations made against Lebanon because these accusations aim towards political bickering. Those making these accusations aspire to achieve personal gains and electoral interests that do not harmonize with the country’s interests.
Action must be taken before it is too late. A national dialogue session must be held as soon as possible to resolve the issue.
This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on April 25, 2013.
Nayla Tueni is one of the few elected female politicians in Lebanon and of the two youngest. She became a member of parliament in 2009 and following the assassination of her father, Gebran, she is currently a member of the board and Deputy General Manager of Lebanon’s leading daily, Annahar. Prior to her political career, Nayla had trained, written in and managed various sections of Annahar, where she currently has a regular column. She can be followed on Twitter @NaylaTueni