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Lebanon's defence minister blames deteriorating economy on 'burden of Syrian refugees'

Lebanon hosts an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Syrian refugees [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 December, 2019

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Lebanon's defence minister is the latest senior politician to blame the country's downtrodden economy on Syrian refugees.
Lebanon’s minister of defence blamed the country’s deteriorating economic crisis on the influx of Syrian refugees, the latests in such racist remarks against the neighbouring migrants.

“A disaster followed the Arab Spring with the displacement of two and a half million Syrians to Lebanon,” Elias Bou Saab said at the World Youth Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh.

"The international community promised to solve this crisis, and organisations assisted the displaced in many ways but but the host country remained alone,” he said.

"We are living in an economic crisis today caused by an accumulation of some 40 or 50 years, but the dawn of this crisis is the burden of the displaced.”

Bou Saab went on to condemn what he described as “terrorists” that emerged from displacement camps, referencing those who clashed with the Lebanese army after years of abysmal camp conditions.

The defence minister’s comments follow similar rhetoric spewed by other members of Lebanon’s government, including the foreign minister who in September courted controversy once again when he also blamed the country's downtrodden economy on the Syrian refugees.

Bassil said the "economic situation in Lebanon is about to deteriorate due to the presence of large numbers of Syrian refugees" and called for a solution to the crisis.

Former MP Walid Jumblatt has slammed Bassil's comments, describing them as "cheap" and "racist".

Bassil, the Christian-dominated Free Patriotic Movement leader, previously courted controversy when he said Syrian refugees are "demanding the acceleration of their return [to Syria]" and that he would fight any policies of resettling refugees inside Lebanon.

In what appeared to be a response to Bassil's comments, veteran politician Jumblatt took to the social media platform Twitter and posted a scathing attack on Bassil.

"Enough fooling the people that the Lebanese economy is on the verge of collapse as a result of the Syrians. Stop that cheap, racist [talk].”

But this was not the first time Bassil was called out on his racism. A month earlier, the foreign minister warned of "retaliatory measures" against the UNHCR, after the agency stated that the situation in Syria was still too dangerous for refugees to return to.

These new measures included freezing residency permits for aid workers after Bassil claimed they were "intimidating" refugees wanting to return home to Syria.

Bassil is part of a pro-Damascus wing of Lebanese politics led by Hezbollah - which sympathises with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Iran.

Many politicians have spoken out against the mostly Sunni Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon following intense regime bombing since 2011, and urged them to return to "safe" areas of the war-torn country.

Lebanon, a country of roughly 4 million people, hosts an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Syrian refugees who have fled the conflict which erupted in Syria in 2011.

A strong anti-refugee backlash has also gripped some sections of Lebanese society and there has been pressure on Syrian refugees to leave Lebanon.

Syrian refugees have increasingly been subjected to harassment and racism in recent years, some of which is encouraged by senior Lebanese politicians.

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