Raids on businesses employing Syrians further threaten refugees in Lebanon

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FILE - Internal Security Forces personnel wait outside during a raid on a hotel in the Hamra neighborhood of Beirut in July 2014. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Firas al-Hakkar

Published Monday, January 5, 2015

A broad ‘security campaign’ targeting Syrian workers has been launched across Beirut. The unannounced raids on businesses that employ Syrian and foreign workers have been ongoing since December 10.

Ibrahim locked himself in the bathroom for nearly an hour. His friend managed to escape after seeing security personnel surround Shopper’s supermarket in Tariq al-Jdideh, where they work. The security personnel entered the premises in search of Syrian workers. They arrested a number of them, confiscated their papers, and asked them to check in with the General Security Directorate within two days, to settle their residency status or be deported to Syria within a month.

One of the workers – who did not provide his name – told Al-Akhbar: “The security agents entered suddenly. We did not expect them to be looking for Syrian workers. We only realized that after they arrested the first Syrian man. We tried to escape or hide, but couldn’t because our uniforms bear the name of the establishment. Also, the security agents encircled the supermarket’s entrances. Thankfully, they only seized our official papers and did not arrest us.”

A state of panic spread among the workers and customers at the supermarket. The workers dropped all customer requests and started running aimlessly. Some yelled: “Police... Police… Run.” The same security patrols raided other establishments throughout Beirut a few days earlier. Another Syrian employee at the supermarket said: “I do not see any justification for pursuing Syrian workers in this way. More than half of the workers in this establishment are Syrian, and 500 Syrian families get their UN aid here.”

The security forces left the premises after seizing the workers' papers, including passports and identification cards. The patrolling lieutenant shouted victoriously: “We will visit you often.”

Many Lebanese have called for the deportation of Syrians, citing the lack of job opportunities resulting from the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon after the outbreak of the Syrian crisis four years ago, and the displacement of entire families to neighboring countries. They maintain that this demand is not based on racism. However, some time ago, supermarket chain Spinneys started a systematic process to replace Syrian workers with Bangladeshis. This decision undermines the argument that the call for deportation is not based on racism. Spinneys has curtailed the employment of Syrian workers, replacing them with foreign workers, because the latter are said to accept much harsher work conditions; furthermore, Syrian workers are thought to require higher salaries to cover the living costs of their refugee families in Lebanon.

The security crackdown only targets Syrians. Rumor has it, the next few days will be tough on Syrians in Lebanon. Syrian workers whose papers were confiscated by the General Security Directorate were given documents by the agency clearly stating its newly issued guidance that prohibits the renewal of the residency of Syrians in Lebanon. The guidance permits the extension of the stay of other Arabs and foreigners.

Also, Syrian students in Lebanon have been prohibited from entering Lebanon unless they provide written pledges from their universities, addressed to the Security Directorate, guaranteeing that they will leave the country immediately after finishing their exams.

Mohammed Omar, a law student at the Islamic University, tells Al-Akhbar: “We were not allowed to enter Lebanon. Security personnel at the border even threatened to tear up our university IDs if we did not go back to Syria. We were only able to take the exams after the intervention of the university, which pledged that all students would leave the country 24 hours after taking their exams.”

Some Syrians believe that these campaigns were planned in coordination with the Syrian government, following widespread rumors that a general military mobilization will be announced in Syria early this year. Others believe that there has been a “covert settlement between governments, the aim of which is to return Syrians to Syria.”

Abu Rabi, one of the workers at the supermarket whose papers were confiscated, is still thinking of a solution to this predicament, especially since he and his family risk deportation to Syria, where their home has been destroyed. His situation is similar to that of many Syrians, who have not been welcomed in our region despite its size.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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