BEIRUT: Frustrated with friends, neighbors and politicians blaming the country’s problems on Syrian refugees, a group of Lebanese activists have created a video in response to what they see as growing anti-refugee sentiment.
“Lebanon cannot handle all these Syrian refugees,” says a young woman, staring wide-eyed into the camera. “Yeah right, because it opened the hotels to them for free,” she adds sarcastically.
The woman is one of several activists who appear in a video posted online this week by the Beirut-based Anti-Racism Movement, intended to highlight what they see as flawed logic.
“In the past few weeks there has been a lot of racism, hate and incitement [against Syrian refugees],” the movement’s coordinator Farah Salka told The Daily Star.
She took particular issue with recent comments by Telecommunications Minister Gibran Bassil and MP Nayla Tueni, both of whom have come under fire for characterizing Syrians as a burden on Lebanon and calling for stricter border control.
“We wanted to apologize to refugees in Lebanon, those who are able to see [the video], and to say that these people do not represent us.”
The UNHCR has recently stated that 250,000 Syrians have already sought refuge in Lebanon from the war raging in their country, a number expected to continue to rise in the coming months.
Some have blamed the influx of refugees for rising rent costs, lower wages, and additional strains on the country’s already weak infrastructure.
The video seeks to counter this argument by placing the blame on the government, which has struggled to provide basic services long before the outbreak of the crisis in Syria.
The video was posted online Tuesday following a spate of clips painting Syrian refugees as a threat to Lebanon’s stability and security.
By Wednesday evening it had nearly 5,000 hits.
“This is a response to the general atmosphere, which is a sum of all the videos, statements and even comedy programs on TV that are making fun of Syrians as if they know anything about it,” Salka said. “It’s a response to this general discourse which is being normalized.”
One by one, the activists who appear in the video offer counterpoints to the complaints that have now become a common theme in both official statements and casual conversations among the Lebanese.
Several accept the accusation that foreigners are responsible for cases of sexual harassment and rape in Lebanon.
“Put your energy into passing a law that holds rapists accountable, regardless of their nationality, whether Syrian or Lebanese,” says a young man.
Yet another activist takes on the coded language of sectarian and class politics, which often expresses concerns by alluding to “demographics,” “population distribution” and “high birth rates.”
“Fine, give me electricity and water, and I won’t ask you for more,” he adds.
“Is it really the fault of Syrians, who were forced to come here and take your job, with higher prices and lower salaries, or is it the fault of the Lebanese who hired him and want to profit off him? Or is it the fault of the state, which has no labor law to protect employees?” asks another young man.
The video ends with a fade to black and a short message written in Lebanese Arabic: “The problem is not with the refugees ... the problem is ours.”
Salka said the video is intended to be an apology to Syrians and a message to Lebanese, but unlike other videos produced by the Anti-Racism Movement, the clip uses heavy sarcasm and avoids a frontal assault on the people blaming Syrians for local problems.
“We talk about the arguments, rather than make fun of the people making them,” she said. “We want to reach out to people to show how silly these arguments are.”