BEIRUT: Political leaders, religious authorities and the media were urged on Wednesday not to make Syrian refugees scapegoats for Lebanon’s problems.
“Lebanon is headed toward parliamentary elections, and there are so many controversial debates about issues that affect Lebanese society, politics and the economy,” said Mireille Girard, representative in Lebanon for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
“Tension may sometimes be focused on refugees because they are believed to be the cause of many current political, security and economic problems. Thus, it is very important that we sit together and thoroughly discuss this matter.
“The media is responsible for reducing tension and being objective, and this is also the responsibility of political leaders, religious authorities and other concerned sectors.”
Girard was speaking at a workshop organized with the Ministry of Information on media coverage of the refugee issue. Information Minister Melhem Riachy called for “positive media coverage that does not conceal facts, violate the principle of objectivity and suggest that the whole population of a country are murderers because one of them committed a crime.”
Riachy accused some media outlets of promoting racism and ideas that contradicted historical fact. “If we wish for refugees to return safely to their own country, we must work to ease the causes of tension in Lebanon,” he said.
UNHCR Protection Officer Esther Pinzari said immigrants and displaced people were not the same as Syrian refugees, of whom there were 1 million in Lebanon. Ensuring their safe and voluntary return was important, she said. “Seeking refuge in a third country is the solution for a small number of people who suffer from extremely fragile conditions.”
Nasser Yassin, director of research at the Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, said most Syrian refugees were women and children, and they contributed $1.25 billion to Lebanon’s economy.
“In the past, they used to spend their money inside Syria,” he said. “If refugees returned to Syria today, only the tension would be eased, but not Lebanon’s economic crisis.”
Schott Gregg, UNHCR media officer, said refugees could not be forced to return to Syria while violence continued. “The war in Syria is not over yet,” he said. “The areas that are safe this week may not be so next week.”