For over three months, the Lebanese people protested against a government that failed to meet their basic needs and demands. Even though newly elected Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Hezbollah-backed government was formed Jan. 21, Diab’s cabinet has many political and social issues it must address.
Although Lebanon must provide for its citizens first and foremost, the country must address the fact that it has the highest refugee per capita population in the world. Lebanon’s government must make a sincere effort to adequately care for the millions of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who have lived inside the country’s borders for years but still have few rights protected by the national government.
Lebanon is undoubtedly a nation like few others in the world with its pristine mountain peaks overlooking the glistening Mediterranean shoreline, historic Phoenician artifacts contrasted with chic resorts and casinos, and Christian and Muslim villages dotting its coast.
Despite offering so much beauty, Lebanon fails to have a system in place to remove trash from the streets, provide basic health care for those most in need or deter politicians and business moguls from stealing billions from the nation’s treasury. It comes as no surprise that, on top of these failures, the government has failed to issue any official statements about the future fate of refugees living in Lebanon.
Because these protests have been Lebanon’s largest since the devastating civil war from 1975 to 1990, now is the time to raise the refugee issue. The protests prove that the people of Lebanon want the government to restructure itself and change its understanding of what good governance looks like. Diab’s cabinet can approach Lebanon’s sociopolitical issues Lebanon, including the need to find an adequate response to the presence of millions of refugees. With Lebanon’s GDP to debt ratio one of the highest in the world at 152% and more Lebanese citizens living outside the country than inside it, tackling the issue of nearly two million Palestinian and Syrian refugees in a country with a population of six million will certainly be a tall task.
Three hundred thousand refugee children were not in school in 2018, Palestinians who have been in the country since 1948 still do not have citizenship and cannot own property or pursue many vocations simply because of their refugee status and over two-thirds of those same people are considered “poor or extremely poor,” according to a recent U.N. Refugee Agency report. Such living conditions create a cycle of poverty families will continue to struggle withs if the government never properly invests in assistance for refugees.
If the new government demonstrates a serious commitment to the refugee issue, it can use this commitment as leverage with the international community.
A clear obstacle to dealing with the refugee issue in Lebanon is the financial crisis that the nation is facing. The international community might offer much-needed financial support to Lebanon in exchange for the country offering refugees a viable path to future success.
The newly formed government will likely face immense hurdles in the near future, as the United States has recently said it plans on withholding financial support because of the cabinet’s ties to Hezbollah. Similarly, the $11 billion promised to Lebanon in 2018 by international donors under former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has not yet gone through due to political mismanagement. Lebanon’s government must construct a viable plan for supporting refugees well into the future. The government should enable these marginalized people who only ask for opportunities to succeed to help the nation prosper for generations to come.
Carefully addressing the refugee crisis will surely lead to more prosperity for the Arab state. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has helped fund education for generations of children, but those same children are unemployed upon graduation because of political favoritism toward Lebanese citizens in the job market. Syrian refugees face a similar fate, as discrimination toward them is rooted in the vivid memory of the Syrian National Army having control of much of Lebanese affairs until their military forces withdrew in 2005.
The greatest costs in these political debacles are the futures of everyday people. A child does not choose to be a citizen or a refugee, but the Lebanese government has chosen to ignore those who are most vulnerable within their borders.
Youssef Osman is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.