MPs Announce New App to Increase Crackdowns on Syrian Refugees

Amidst a rising death toll from the current conflict and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, a number of Beirut Members of Parliament, led by Lebanese Forces MP Ghassan Hasbani, announced the creation of a new mobile application to report “violations” by Syrian refugees in Beirut – particularly those without legal documents.

The app, titled “every citizen is sentinel,” allows citizens to take photos using their mobile phones and report the incident to the app managers, who in turn relay it to relevant authorities to carry out “appropriate measures.” Users can select from a dropdown list of violations, including “violations of the rental law”, “violations of the labor law,” and others.

Upon its creation, the app was circulated to around 30,000 citizens via Whatsapp. It was primarily targeted at citizens of the electoral district Beirut 1 in the areas of Ashrafieh, Rmeil, Saifi and Mdawwar.

Hasbani explains that the app is meant to assist the Security Forces, whose capacities are limited, to track down violations of the law. In a post on X – previously Twitter – a statement by Hasbani asserts that “the security of Beirut and the Ashrafieh area in specific are red lines” and that protection from “illegal residents” is necessary, especially those carrying weapons.

A number of organizations have since criticized the application for reinforcing a discriminatory and hate-based discourse against Syrian refugees, most of whom have limited access to basic rights, especially mobility and income-generating opportunities.

Recently, almost all traditional Lebanese political parties have used refugee influxes as a scapegoat for their own political failures, and have blamed these influxes for the accentuation of the crisis and called for the deportation of Syrians from Lebanon.

In a post on Instagram, urban planning expert Soha Mneimneh explains that racism was not the only issue that the app manifests, but also the ignorance of legislators. She explains that landlords “prefer to rent their apartments to Syrians, because they can evacuate them anytime they want without any consequences”, and that others prefer to “rent their houses to Syrians because their state is delipidated and the majority of Lebanese don’t accept living in them.”

She ends the post with the fact that Syrians “live in a state of constant anxiety and fear of evacuation, while some have become accustomed to evacuation being an integral part of their daily lives.” 

Enforcement for the Weak, Exemption for Those Connected

The app’s launch was announced concurrently with a decision by the Public Prosecution to revoke the arrest warrants against MPs Youssef Fenianos and Ali Hassan Khalil concerning the port explosion.

The arrest warrants, launched in 2021, were never executed by the relevant authorities, and the investigations into the port explosion have been repeatedly obstructed by the country’s ruling class, be it by judicial means, political pressure or even military escalation.

On the other hand, the most marginalized communities are often the victims of official governmental policy, “security measures” and ruling class political discourses.

While the current app further demonizes refugees, it adds to many other limiting conditions that refugee communities are subject to, including mass and forced deportations to dangerous circumstances in Syria, daily violence by security forces and citizens, mass expulsions from and burning of tents, and governmental measures that limit their basic needs attainment efforts.

More recently, reports indicate that the government, led by the Ministry of Information, is also working on video clips and campaigns pointing to the “dangers of Syrian migration”, going hand in hand with increasingly discriminatory official positions.

Similarly, women and LGBTQIA+ groups were also on the receiving end of hate and inciteful campaigns, with the Ministry of Interior actively cracking down on queer groups and even providing cover for local mafia to exert violence on queer communities.

A Discourse Based on Untruths

The campaigns initiated by ruling class politicians and mainstream media platforms rely on a multifaceted strategy of scapegoating, hate and disinformation.

Intentionally, the campaigns pin the crisis to refugee influxes, whereas data has clearly reflected that Lebanon’s socioeconomic state of affairs is rooted in the ruling class’s political economy path.

Such campaigns also disregard the positive outcomes of Syrian influxes in Lebanon, particularly how Syrian workers and refugees have contributed to the country’s productive sectors such as agriculture and construction, often under the exploitation of landowners or business managers and excruciating socioeconomic conditions.

More recently, aid to refugees by several organizations, especially the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has significantly dwindled in 2024 as almost nine out of 10 refugees are unable to meet basic needs.