Image Credit: L'Orient Today

Refugee Camp Fires and Unprecedented Waves of Hate

Last week, the Hamad al-Hassan refugee camp near the Bekaa city of Zahle was burnt to the ground after a massive fire erupted on Monday afternoon.

Almost 500 individuals were left without a home, as all that remained from the camp consisted of burned remains and debris. 

Some hypotheses suggest that the alleged cause of the fire was an electrical short circuit, while others suggest that it was natural, environmental circumstances that triggered the fire. No confirmation of the cause has been identified yet.

Questionable Timing

The fire came at a time when Syrian refugees are subject to the worst forms of hate, incitement and violence by a range of actors in Lebanon, including mainstream political parties, governmental agencies, social media campaigners, and many others.

It comes at a time where “the entire life of Syrians in Lebanon is in danger as a result of the systematic attacks that are taking place by political party supporters or from the racist statements of authorities […],” asserts Jad Shahrour, Communication Officer at the Samir Kassir Foundation.

“I would like to remind you of the fact that between 2011 and 2023, Lebanon received $14 billion related to the refugee file, which includes $10 billion destined for direct assistance to Palestinian refugees, Syrian refugees and the poorest families in Lebanon,” adds Shahrour.

He explains that despite the chances of environmental factors playing a role in such incidents, this doesn’t invisibilize the ongoing attack on Syrian refugees, with the end goal to receive further funds from donors. This is a systematic plan from the state to create narratives that Syrians are committing crime and causing damage to Lebanon and society to receive more financial support.

On Monday evening, Lebanon’s Minister of Displacement Affairs suggested his country should “open all maritime outlets and prepare ships for Syrians to arrive safely in European countries,” becoming yet another minister to openly speak against Syrian refugees.

Double Standards in Media Coverage

For the last few years, coverage by mainstream media has overwhelmingly focused on narratives and political views that put forward conspiracy theories around refugee presence, associate it with plans to change Lebanon’s demography, compare it to the Syrian military presence prior to 2005, or promote other inciteful suggestions.

However, what is missing from mainstream media coverage are the daily attacks that are taking place against Syrian refugees in both sporadic and organized manners by groups of thugs or by organized parties respectively.

It is not the first time that a refugee camp witnesses widespread fires, with many other incidents having been recorded throughout the last few years.

Fires, alongside organized assaults and mass expulsions from camps, are some of the many attacks that Syrians in Lebanon have been subject to. They accentuate already-excruciating socioeconomic conditions whereby 9 out 10 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon live in extreme poverty.

Another matter that is missing from mainstream media and political commentaries on the issue is a sober analysis of labor conditions in Lebanon, the role that Syrians have played in the Lebanese economy, and solutions that can reinvigorate socioeconomic conditions for populations from all backgrounds in the country.