Will EU aid in exchange for curbing refugee flows make it harder for Syrians in Lebanon to overcome hostility?

A man and his family ride on a motorbike through flood waters at an informal tent settlement housing Syrian refugees following winter storms in the area of Delhamiyeh, in the central Bekaa Valley on January 17, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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Will EU aid in exchange for curbing refugee flows make it harder for Syrians in Lebanon to overcome hostility?

  • EU leaders say a new 1 billion euro aid package for Lebanon will ease the economic pressure of hosting displaced Syrian
  • Rights groups say the pledged funding has only emboldened Lebanese authorities to mount a crackdown on Syrians

LONDON: Since the EU announced a €1 billion ($1.087 billion) aid package to assist Syrians in Lebanon, in exchange for Lebanese authorities agreeing to curb the flow of migrants to Europe, hostility toward the Syrian community in Lebanon has, by most accounts, continued to rise.

Earlier this month, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, announced that the EU would allocate a substantial package of aid to crisis-racked Lebanon for the 2024-27 period to help it cope with its substantial refugee population.

Of this amount, €736 million would be allocated to supporting refugees, while €264 million would go toward training the Lebanese armed forces to tackle illegal migration to Europe.

Von der Leyen said the aid would bolster border management, assist reform to the banking sector, and support basic services to the most vulnerable communities, including refugees, amid a crippling economic crisis in Lebanon and a surge in the number of irregular boat arrivals in Cyprus from Lebanon.




The EU recently announced a €1 billion aid package to assist Syrians in Lebanon, in exchange for Lebanese authorities agreeing to curb the flow of migrants to Europe. (AFP)

The announcement came after Cyprus, an EU member state, voiced concern about the number of migrant boats arriving on its shores last month. The majority were Syrians arriving from Lebanon.

This sharp increase in arrivals prompted the Cypriot government in mid-April to suspend the processing of asylum applications from Syrians. Nicosia also called on its EU partners to step up efforts to aid Lebanon.

However, von der Leyen’s announcement appears to have emboldened Lebanese authorities to step up their crackdown on Syrians, human rights monitor Amnesty International said on Monday.

Within a week of the announcement, on May 8, Lebanon’s General Security announced a new clampdown on Syrians, further tightening work and residency restrictions and ramping up raids, evictions, arrests and deportations.

More than 400 refugees were repatriated to Syria on May 14, according to Amnesty International, which, alongside other rights bodies, concluded that “Syria remains unsafe for return, and refugees are at risk of human rights violations.”




Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to their country through the Al-Zamrani crossing on May 14, 2024. (AFP)

“Once again, President von der Leyen has put her desire to curb the flow of refugees at any cost into Europe before the EU’s obligations to protect refugees fleeing conflict or persecution,” Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

“This appears to have emboldened Lebanese authorities to intensify their ruthless campaign targeting refugees with hateful discourse, forced deportations, and stifling measures on residency and labor.”

Lebanon is home to about 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Anti-Syrian sentiment in the country has intensified since the onset of the financial crisis in 2019, pushing 80 percent of the Lebanese population below the poverty line.

The hostility and suspicion, stoked by the rhetoric of senior politicians, boiled over in mid-April when a senior Lebanese Forces official was reportedly abducted and killed in a Syrian area near the Lebanese border.

Lebanese mobs indiscriminately attacked Syrians and vandalized their properties, while local authorities and self-appointed community groups evicted many from their homes and businesses.

IN NUMBERS

  • 1/3 of Lebanese citizens in five governorates were living in poverty in 2022.
  • 90% of Syrians in Lebanon were living below the poverty line in 2022.
  • 2,000 Syrians arrived in Cyprus by sea in the first quarter of 2024.

The EU-Lebanon deal augurs poorly for acceptance of displaced Syrian refugees, rights groups say.

Wadih Al-Asmar, president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, told Arab News he has never witnessed “this amount of pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where all the security services are participating.”

He believes the hostility toward Syrians is “purely for electoral reasons” and that von der Leyen has “opened a Pandora’s box in the region, especially in Lebanon.”

Syrian refugees are among the most vulnerable communities in Lebanon, with the majority unable to afford basic essentials and more than half of households living in shelters that are either overcrowded or below minimum standards for habitability, according to UN agencies.




A Syrian child stands barefoot amidst snow in the Syrian refugees camp of Al-Hilal near Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley on January 20, 2022. (AFP)

Karam Shaar, a senior fellow at the New Lines Institute, said displaced Syrians in Lebanon “are always in a position where they have to pick between two ugly options: Staying in Lebanon or going back to Syria.

“It’s the balance between the ugliness of these two factors that determines whether they decide to stay in Lebanon or go back to Syria,” he told Arab News.

Until now, the next best option for Syrians was onward travel to a third country — ideally an EU member state. However, since Cyprus stopped processing Syrian refugee applications, options have narrowed further.

“The option to leave Lebanon and go to Europe has also been made much, much harder because it’s much more difficult to go to Greece from Lebanon instead of going to Cyprus, which is much, much closer,” Shaar said.

Cyprus is a mere 185 km from Lebanon — taking about 10 hours to reach by boat. More than 2,000 Syrians arrived by sea in the first quarter of 2024. Whether the new EU funding for Lebanon will reduce those numbers remains to be seen.




Syrian refugees are among the most vulnerable communities in Lebanon, with the majority unable to afford basic essentials. (AFP)

Shaar said the money allocated to support Syrians in Lebanon is “relatively small.” Furthermore, owing to the routine misappropriation of funding by Lebanese authorities, little is likely to reach those most in need.

“If you think of the 3RP (Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan), which is the main UN-sponsored plan for helping Lebanon cope with the Syrian refugee crisis, the sums that Lebanon has been receiving per year are actually higher than the amount that the EU has announced — if you look at the elements relating specifically to Syrians,” he said.

“Unfortunately, in light of aid diversion, which is the case in Lebanon, in Syria — in most corrupt countries to varying extents — little of that amount will actually find its way to Syrians.

“However, I think part of those amounts is urgently needed, especially in the field of education and the support toward the UNHCR.”




Karam Shaar, a senior fellow at the New Lines Institute, said part of the money allocated to support Syrians in Lebanon is “urgently needed, especially in the field of education and the support toward the UNHCR.” (AFP)

Co-led by the UN Refugee Agency and the UN Development Programme, the 3RP provides a platform for humanitarian and development partners to respond to the Syrian crisis at the regional and host country level.

The 3RP estimated in this year’s Regional Strategic Overview report that Lebanon, the country with the highest proportion of refugees in the world relative to its population, will need $2.7 billion in financial aid to meet humanitarian needs in 2024.

Last year, Lebanon received $1.8 billion, representing a mere 31 percent of the required $5.9 billion, according to the same report.

Al-Asmar of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights believes the latest EU aid package will have “more negative than positive effect on Lebanon.”




The UN said Lebanon will need $2.7 billion in financial aid to meet humanitarian needs in 2024. (EU)

On the one hand, he said, the €1 billion “is not new money — this was the support that was planned for the next four years.” It was primarily a “marketing or packaging announcement,” he said.

On the other hand, “this support, instead of being welcomed by Lebanese politicians, was somehow a trigger to initiate one of the biggest hate campaigns against Syrian refugees.”

Rather than shouldering the responsibility for the country’s predicament, including the ongoing financial crisis, Lebanese politicians are instead making scapegoats of the Syrians, he said.

€1 billion for Lebanon over four years means €250 million per year,” which “is nothing,” especially when considering the “number of refugees we have in Lebanon.”




Syrian refugees stand in the balcony of a building under construction which they have been using as shelter in the city of Sidon in southern Lebanon, on March 17, 2020. (AFP)

Pointing out that EU officials have not yet approved the agreement, he said: “We have the feeling that the EU is trying to outsource border management … and pushing the Lebanese government to commit human rights violations that EU countries cannot afford to commit.

“So, whenever there are Syrian people to be pushed back from Cyprus, for example, they will not be pushed back to Syria, which is a crime. They will be pushed back to Lebanon, and then the Lebanese army will commit this international crime, which is a violation of the Convention against Torture, by sending them back to Syria.”

Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture stipulates that “no state party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

As a party to the convention, Lebanon has breached its international obligations by summarily deporting thousands, including opposition activists and army defectors, to Syria, according to Human Rights Watch.

Ahead of the 8th Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region, held on Monday, humanitarian organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that Syrians are at risk of being forgotten by the international community.

With 16.7 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance in 2024, according to UN figures, aid agencies urged donors to increase investment in early recovery to help Syrians rebuild their lives and access basic services.




Human Rights Watch said Lebanon has breached its international obligations by summarily deporting thousands, including opposition activists and army defectors, to Syria. (AFP)

The EU pledged €2.12 billion for 2024-25 to support Syrians at home and in neighboring countries, as well as their host communities in Lebanon, Turkiye, Jordan and Iraq.

In response to the pledge, the aid agency Oxfam said the discussion in Brussels “remains far removed from the harsh realities Syrians face.”

In a statement the agency said: “Funding still fails to match the scale of needs, and year after year, the number of people relying on aid grows, a stark reminder of the eminent collapse in Syria’s humanitarian situation.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned that the Syrian Humanitarian Response Plan for 2024, covering neighboring countries, is only 8.7 percent funded, at $352 million out of the required $4.07 billion.

In neighboring countries, just $371 million, or 7.7 percent, of the $4.49 billion required is covered.

 


Israel army spokesman says Hamas can’t be eliminated

Updated 5 sec ago
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Israel army spokesman says Hamas can’t be eliminated

  • “Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
  • PM Netanyahu's office quickly rebuffed the spokesman's statement, saying Hamas has to be defeated

JERUSALEM: Israel’s top army spokesman said Wednesday that Hamas cannot be eliminated, prompting a knee-jerk reaction from the government which quickly reiterated it remains committed to the Palestinian militant group’s destruction.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have failed to oust the Islamist militants from Gaza but have brought widespread devastation.
“To say that we are going to make Hamas disappear is to throw sand in people’s eyes. If we don’t provide an alternative, in the end, we will have Hamas,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told Israel’s Channel 13 broadcaster.
“Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology.”
His comments were quickly rebuffed by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose cabinet has stated its Gaza offensive will not end until Hamas is defeated.
“The political and security cabinet headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu defined as one of the goals of the war the destruction of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities,” his office said in a statement.
“The IDF is of course committed to this.”
In a separate statement on its Telegram channel, the military clarified that Hagari had addressed Hamas “as an ideology... and his statements were clear and explicit.”
“Any other claim is taking the statement out of context.”
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas has killed at least 37,396 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
 


US army kills senior Daesh official in Syria

Updated 2 min 10 sec ago
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US army kills senior Daesh official in Syria

  • Airstrike in Syria kills senior Daesh official and facilitator Usamah Jamal Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Janabi
  • US Central Command: ‘His death will disrupt Daesh’s ability to resource and conduct terror attacks’

CAIRO: The US Central Command said on Wednesday it had conducted an airstrike in Syria that killed a senior Daesh official and facilitator named Usamah Jamal Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Janabi.
“His death will disrupt Daesh’s ability to resource and conduct terror attacks,” it said in a statement on X.
It said: “There is no indication any civilians were harmed in this strike.”


Nine Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on citizens waiting for aid in Gaza: medical sources

Mourners react next to the bodies of Palestinians, killed in Israeli strikes due to a military operation in Rafah.
Updated 19 June 2024
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Nine Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on citizens waiting for aid in Gaza: medical sources

  • More than eight months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of famine

GAZA: Nine Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike that hit a group of citizens and merchants in the southern Gaza Strip as they waited for convoys of aid trucks carrying goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing, medical sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

Eight people were also killed on Wednesday when Israeli tanks backed by warplanes and drones advanced deeper into the western part of the Gaza Strip city of Rafah, according to residents and Palestinian medics.
Residents said the tanks moved into five neighborhoods after midnight. Heavy shelling and gunfire hit the tents of displaced families in the Al-Mawasi area, further to the west of the coastal enclave, they said.
Some eight months into the war, there has been no sign of let up in the fighting as efforts by international mediators, backed by the United States, have so far failed to persuade Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.


Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit

Updated 19 June 2024
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Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit

  • Hochstein reassures Mikati on ‘positive atmosphere’ regarding Biden’s Gaza ceasefire plan
  • Hezbollah shells Kiryat Shmona after 3 members were killed in raid on Yaroun

BEIRUT: Hostilities flared between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in southern Lebanon on Wednesday following a visit by US envoy Amos Hochstein to Beirut and Tel Aviv.

Opinions varied on the outcome of Hochstein’s visit, which aimed to reduce tensions between Hezbollah and Israel on Lebanon’s southern border.

A political observer noted an “unsettling atmosphere” amid the visit — Hochstein’s trip coincided with Hezbollah’s release of aerial drone footage captured inside Israel, showing military bases and the Haifa port.

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati receives US special envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut on Tuesday. (AFP)

The footage, released by the group on Tuesday, alarmed and angered Israeli military observers.

Media reports on Wednesday from Beirut said that Hochstein reassured caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the atmosphere was “positive” regarding US President Joe Biden’s initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Hochstein said that the situation was “under control.”

BACKGROUND

Wednesday’s clash came a day after the Israeli military said it had approved operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has said that any ceasefire on Lebanon’s southern border will only be reached following a truce in the Gaza Strip.

A Paris meeting earlier this month between President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron focused on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Several Hezbollah members and civilians were killed and injured in fresh violence as Hochstein left the region.

Hezbollah said on Wednesday it fired dozens of Katyusha rockets and artillery rounds at a barracks in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, in retaliation for the Israeli attacks on Yarun and Khiam.

The group said it targeted the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade — affiliated with the 91st Division — at the Kiryat Shmona barracks with rockets and artillery shells.

Israeli media reported that about 20 rockets were launched from Lebanon toward Kiryat Shmona.

Haaretz quoted the Israeli army as saying that about 10 rockets were fired toward the town, causing damage to infrastructure and property.

Sirens and Israel’s Iron Dome air defense was activated in Israeli settlements near the Lebanese border.

Since Wednesday morning, southern Lebanon has faced Israeli attacks, injuring civilians residing near targeted sites.

Army artillery shelled the outskirts of the border towns of Taybeh and Hula.

The city of Khiam was targeted with heavy shells, causing significant damage to a healthcare center belonging to the Amel Association International.

Israeli aerial and artillery attacks targeted the outskirts of the towns of Aita Al-Shaab, Shebaa, Odaisseh, Rachaya Al-Foukhar, Tallouseh, Bani Haiyyan and Mays Al-Jabal.

The head of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, MP Fadi Alame, counted “more than 5,000 Israeli attacks on Lebanon since the southern front opened over eight months ago, resulting in the death of more than 400 people and over 15,000 injuries.”

The MP added that Israel had used “internationally banned phosphorous bombs, affecting more than 12,000 hectares of land, while more than 75 schools were damaged.”

Israeli aerial and artillery attacks reached the outskirts of Aita Al-Shaab, Chebaa, Odaisseh, Rachaya Al-Fakhar, Tallouseh, Bani Haiyyan and Mays Al-Jabal.

Israeli jets raided Yaroun in Bint Jbeil, killing three people. Hezbollah mourned the deaths of Hassan Mohammed Ali Saab, 54, from Yaroun in southern Lebanon; Jihad Ahmad Hayek, 25, from the south of the village of Adshit; and Hassan Al-Mujtaba Youssef Ahmad, 27, from Rchaf.

An Israeli military drone targeted a car in Wazzani, but the driver escaped by jumping out of the vehicle upon seeing the drone.

The coastal area between Borgholiyeh and Chabriha in Tyre was also targeted.

In response to the raid on Borgholiyeh, Hezbollah carried out “an aerial attack with a fleet of attack drones targeting gatherings and positions of Israeli soldiers inside the Metula settlement, causing confirmed hits.”

According to an Israeli army investigation reported on by Israel’s Ynet, one of the three Hezbollah surveillance drones that infiltrated Israeli airspace was shot down.

Also on Wednesday, Hezbollah commemorated the death of a senior field commander, Taleb Sami Abdallah, in Beirut’s southern suburb. He was killed by Israel a week ago.

 


Hezbollah chief says nowhere in Israel will be spared in case of full-blown war

An image grab taken from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV on June 19, 2024, shows Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah giving an address.
Updated 19 June 2024
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Hezbollah chief says nowhere in Israel will be spared in case of full-blown war

  • Hezbollah chief: “There will be no place safe from our missiles and our drones” in Israel in the event of broader war
  • Nasrallah also threatened Cyprus for the first time, saying it had been allowing Israel to use its airports and bases for military exercises

BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday warned “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of full-blown war against the Lebanese group, and threatened Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
“The enemy knows well that we have prepared ourselves for the worst... and that no place... will be spared our rockets,” Nasrallah said in a televised address.
Israel must expect “us on land, by sea and by air,” he said.
“The enemy really fears that the resistance will penetrate Galilee” in northern Israel, he said, adding that this was possible “in the context of a war that could be imposed on Lebanon.”
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
Earlier, Foreign Minister Israel Katz had warned of Hezbollah’s destruction in a “total war.”
Nasrallah said his Iran-backed group had been informed that Israel could use airports and bases in Cyprus if Hezbollah struck Israeli airports.
Cyprus, a European Union member, has good relations with Israel and Lebanon, and lies close to the coast of both countries.
“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” Nasrallah threatened.
Britain has also retained sovereign control over two base areas in its former colony Cyprus under the terms of the treaties that granted the island independence in 1960.

Nasrallah’s statements came a day after US envoy Amos Hochstein — who in 2022 brokered a maritime border deal between Israel and Lebanon — called for “urgent” de-escalation during a visit to Lebanon.
He also met with senior officials in Israel on his regional tour.
“Everything the enemy says and that the mediators convey, including with threats of war on Lebanon... this doesn’t scare us,” Nasrallah said.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah released a more than nine-minute video showing aerial footage purportedly taken by the movement over northern Israel, including what it said were sensitive military, defense and energy facilities and infrastructure in the city and port of Haifa.
Nasrallah said the footage was taken by a drone that “flew for long hours” over the Haifa port.
He also warned that his group had only used “a part of” its weapons since October.
“We have obtained new weapons,” Nasrallah said, without elaborating.
“We have developed some of our weapons... and we are keeping others for the days that will come,” he said.
“Years ago we talked about 100,000 fighters... today, we have greatly exceeded” that number, Nasrallah added.
“The resistance has more (manpower) than it needs... even in the worst circumstances,” he said.
Hezbollah on Wednesday claimed several attacks on Israeli troops and positions in northern Israel, and announced the death of four of its fighters.
The cross-border violence has killed at least 478 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.