11/30/2020, 12.04
SYRIA - LEBANON
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Syrian refugees, caught between conflicting interests and 'complex' geopolitics

There are still nearly one million displaced people in Lebanon. The war in Syria has changed the demographic balance and reshuffled the internal balance. Damascus is in no hurry to see them return, but for Beirut they have become a heavy burden at a cost of a billion. The game of reconstruction between Russia and the West

Beirut (AsiaNews) - In a Middle Eastern context of great uncertainty, new alliances and fronts with opposing interests - see Turkey, Iran and the axis between Israel and the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf - the unresolved issue of Syrian refugees is back in the news and of deep concern. Starting with their presence in Lebanon, whose economic cost and massive presence - 900 thousand in September, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but other sources speak of 1.5 million out of a total of six million - is becoming increasingly more unsustainable. The cost of this presence, tens of billions of dollars, and the social, political and religious imbalances it entails, as the Lebanese economist Fouad Khoury Hélou points out in an analysis in L’Orient-Le Jour (LOJ).

UN sources spoke of 11.5 million Syrian refugees as of February 2018, out of a total population of 20.7 million inhabitants (as of 2011). Of these, the vast majority are Sunni Muslims, 5.5 million have fled abroad (to Europe and neighboring countries) and 5.5 million are internally displaced. The vast majority of those who have left the country have found hospitality and shelter in Turkey (where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hypothesized their naturalization with the granting of citizenship based on the common Muslim faith) and in Lebanon.

The evident fact, Hélou points out, is primarily the demographic and community alteration in Syria: if before the war the Sunnis were 70% of the population, today they do not reach 50%. And from the coastal regions, from large centers such as Damascus and Aleppo, those who remained moved to the north (see Idlib) or to the eastern sector, to the portion of land for years under the control of the Islamic State (SI, formerly Isis).

“We can think - underlines the expert - that Damascus wants to limit returns and keep these populations out of the country, which complicates any discussion. Several decisions have been taken in recent years (such as law number 10 or legislative decree 63), to allow the government to get its hands on the properties of the displaced (classified as "terrorists"), postponing and hindering their return ". To this are added the growing internationalization and conflicting interests, in particular between Russia and the United States (and Europe). Tensions and divisions that affect the three "buffer countries: Lebanon, Syria and Iraq", while Moscow "now settled in the heart of Syria, which plays the wild card role in this new balance".

For the Kremlin, the return of the displaced cannot ignore the obvious reconstruction work in which Moscow intends to play a leading role. For the Western bloc, however, the priority is to return those who fled, restoring a climate of security under the control of international organizations. And then proceed with the reconstruction.

From this point of view, the Lebanese position is becoming more and more delicate because on the one hand it calls for the return of refugees, but on the other hand it has to deal with the interests of Damascus (Hezbollah and Tehran) which are in no hurry to favor their rapid return. Unless you do it "only and exclusively" for Syrian displaced people in Lebanon, a hypothesis difficult to implement at the moment, and with an exorbitant economic and financial price, which no one seems willing to pay. Immersed in the center of this so-called "buffer zone" of the Middle East, Lebanon has been oscillating for years between war (cold) and peace (hypothetical). An ideal situation for Lebanese political actors, because it largely promotes stability and more precisely political immobility.

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