Why Syrian refugees are facing a backlash in Lebanon

Scott Peterson

A deadly wave of attacks by Syrian suicide bombers and fears of further attacks has generated a backlash against the Syrian refugee population that has inundated tiny Lebanon over the past four years. Analysts have long warned that if the more than 1 million Syrians here, almost all of them Sunnis, become radicalized, they could pose the gravest mid- to long-term threat to Lebanon’s already precarious stability. Syrian refugees live in pitiful circumstances, with only 5 percent of teenagers attending school. Strict residency requirements have left around half the refugee population without legal status, according to human rights activists.
But the arrest of more than 100 refugees in the first 24 hours after last week’s bomb attacks and calls for the Syrians to be either marshaled into a vast camp or removed from the country altogether place even greater pressure on the refugee population that could encourage the spread of militancy, analysts warn. “After [the bombings], the Army arrests 100 and says they didn’t have proper residency. I’m assuming that means that none of them were actually related to the bombing…. So how is that a security priority today? Why waste your energy going after people that do not represent a security threat? It’s very short-sighted,” says Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
In the post-9/11 era, and particularly with the rise of Daesh and the lure it can pose to disaffected Muslims in the West, counter-radicalization policies and initiatives have become increasingly prominent. But the scale of the potential problem in Lebanon, where roughly 1 in 5 people is Syrian, dwarfs the government’s already stretched capabilities, which are complicated by conflicting political views on how to handle the refugee crisis. Five people died and 19 were wounded when four Syrians infiltrated Qaa in the early hours of June 27 and detonated their explosive belts after their presence was discovered. That evening, four more Syrian suicide bombers entered the village. One of them, with gelled hair and neatly trimmed beard, walked up to a group of young men armed with pistols sitting outside a church in the village center, according to eyewitnesses. He greeted them and then pulled the cord to detonate his vest, but the charge did not explode.
As the young men drew their pistols to shoot, the bomber stepped away, frantically attempting to detonate the explosive vest. It blew up when he was about 20 yards from the men, wounding several, but not causing any fatalities. A second suicide bomber blew himself up nearby, while the remaining two were shot and killed by soldiers, the bullets apparently detonating their explosive vests. Qaa lies at the northeast corner of Lebanon, adjacent to rugged barren mountains that mark the border with Syria. Some 11,000 Syrian refugees live within the municipal boundaries, mainly in makeshift encampments in a flat agricultural area known as Masharei al-Qaa, north of the village.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombings, but the extremist Daesh is widely suspected. Lebanese and foreign security sources are concerned that with the gradual break up of Daesh’s so-called “caliphate” spanning a swath of Iraq and Syria, Lebanese members of the group will return home to establish sleeper cells and carry out attacks.
The media have carried numerous reports in the past two weeks warning of potential attacks against tourists sites, crowded places, and locations frequented by Westerners. The Army said it had foiled two planned attacks by Daesh, one against a “large tourist facility,” and had arrested five members of the cell. Nohad Mashnouq, the Lebanese interior minister, said Thursday that seven militant networks had been uncovered in recent months. He added that seven of the eight bombers who struck Qaa had come from Raqqa in northern Syria, the Daesh “capital.”
— Khaleej Times

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