Lebanon News

Lebanon’s Syrians feel insecure: survey

Yousef, 4, reaches out for a fish caught for lunch by his mother, Salma (R), near the banks of Nahr Ibrahim river, in Mount Moussa nature reserve July 13, 2015. REUTERS/Alia Haju

BEIRUT: More than a quarter of Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not feel safe, and almost the same number reported that a member of their family had suffered some kind of assault since arriving in the country, according to a survey conducted by Universite Saint-Joseph.

The survey, which polled 1,200 Syrian refugees across the country, showed that security, followed by money and paperwork, were the biggest concerns for Syrians in Lebanon. Remarkably, nearly 70 percent of the refugees who participated in the survey said they were in the country illegally, with most saying they were unable to pay the registration fees or find a Lebanese citizen to sponsor them as stipulated by new rules the state instituted in January.

More than 87 percent of the refugees surveyed said they believe that residency status affects their safety in Lebanon.

Moreover, those who lack the proper paperwork may be more likely to be stopped at checkpoints.

“Being illegal already puts them in a very fragile situation in terms of mobility and checkpoints,” said Carole Rizkallah Alsharabati, who led the survey. Fearing arrest or harassment, many refugees in Lebanon illegally are limiting travel around the country, which can hamper their access to necessary services, Alsharabati said.

Moreover, while 24 percent of Syrians said that they or a member of their family had been assaulted in Lebanon, 69 percent of the victims said they did not report the incident to the authorities or take any other measures toward resolving the issue. Alsharabati suggested that refugees lacking the proper paperwork are afraid to report crimes committed against them for fear of arrest.

The survey also polled 600 Lebanese across the country, and found that more than 54 percent feel insecure. Citizens in areas which had higher numbers of refugees expressed more concern for their safety, the survey showed. But while the majority of Lebanese said they did not feel safe, just 9 percent said they or a family member had been the assaulted, verbally or physically, most of them by a Syrian refugee.

The fear that many Lebanese have of Syrian refugees, Alsharabati said, appears to be disproportionate to the threat. “I think there may be some worry and some panic that is bigger ... than the actual extent of the level of assaults.”

The poll showed that as Syrian refugees are becoming more vulnerable, Lebanese citizens are becoming increasingly wary of their presence. With the possibility for tensions to rise in the coming months and years, Alsharabati warned that building ties between the two communities would require time, effort and funds.

The survey itself was something of a social exercise, with both Syrian and Lebanese students participating in the polling. Alsharabati said Syrian refugees responded differently to Lebanese and Syrian researchers. She feared that some Syrian refugees may indeed have underreported the incidence of assault or their feelings of insecurity to Lebanese students conducting the surveys.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 16, 2015, on page 4.

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