The issue of how Lebanon deals with the Syrian refugees who have fled violence has lately moved into the divisive rhetoric of Lebanese politics.
This development was inevitable. There is no topic too minor, or too noble, that it can avoid being used for political ends in Lebanon.
Although unsurprising, the dragging of refugees into domestic politics must be avoided.
The issue is a humanitarian one, and should be treated as such. There are now over 170,000 Syrian refugees known to be in Lebanon, and likely thousands more.
These people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Many have fled unimaginable horrors, arriving in the country with next to nothing. They have left behind homes, jobs and lives to which they will not be able to return, and rely on the humanity of the Lebanese and the Lebanese government to maintain their dignity.
Yet only recently has the Lebanese government been seen to take the situation seriously, and address the needs of these people.
But instead of being met by support, the country’s politicians have stirred increasing suspicion of the Syrian refugees, for their own political ends.
The Lebanese, more than many, should understand the plight of their neighbors. This country has experienced more than its fair share of violence, and its people more than their fair share of forced migration, including seeking refuge in Syria.
With elections approaching in Lebanon, the country’s politicians have once again fallen into the trap of attempting to divide in order to conquer, of stirring suspicion and fear among Lebanon’s communities in order to win votes. Involving the plight of the refugees in this strategy is shameful.
And while the blame may be laid largely at the politicians’ feet, the Lebanese cannot absolve themselves entirely when they are all too willing to be led there.
That is not to say that Lebanon does not have problems in dealing with the influx of refugees from Syria. Though support has come from the United Nations, other friendly countries and a variety of NGOs, the country nonetheless has difficulty in providing for the thousands who have come to the country.
But this is an economic issue, and not a political one. The question is how to provide for these people, not whether they are deserving of help.
Syria’s refugees are not here out of choice. Ask and most will tell you that they hope to return to Syria as soon as possible. And why would they not, when in Lebanon so many struggle to meet their basic needs.
But so long as they have nothing to return to, Lebanon morally has no choice in how to treat them. Countries are judged on how they treat their most vulnerable inhabitants, and the Lebanese, so proud of their national character, should take pride in treating those who seek refuge here with the respect and dignity they deserve.