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Syrian Kurds Feel Unwelcome in Lebanon

By Judit Neurink 7/1/2014
Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. Photo: AFP
Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. Photo: AFP

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Many thousands of Kurds fled the violence in Syria and went to Lebanon. They mainly found hardship there, as a result of the negative feelings of many Lebanese towards Syrians.

“They do not make the difference between Kurds and Arabs. We are Syrians and the Lebanese hate all Syrians,” says Nawrez, a Syrian Kurd from a village near Aleppo. He lives with his wife Nariman and their five-month-old daughter Fatma near the Lebanese town of Jounieh.

Nawrez, 27, is one of the over one million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Although he came as a worker 12 years ago and is a foreman in the building sector, now he cannot go back home because of the bad safety situation there. Three of his brothers have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.

His home village, Ain al-Arab, is closed in by fighters of the radical Islamic group Jabhat al-Nusrah, and only the PYD, the Syrian wing of PKK, is keeping them out, Nawrez says. “My wife’s father went missing when he visited a cousin outside the village, about a month ago. He was abducted by members of al-Nusrah.”

Nawrez knows of about 500 Kurds from Syrian Kurdistan working in building projects in his area. Next to that, many Syrian men work in the Lebanese restaurants and hotels. The Lebanese economy has been dependent on Syrian laborers for years. When the Syrian army was made to depart in 2005, ending many years of Syrian intervention in Lebanon, the anti-Syrian sentiments made Syrian laborers leave too. But they soon returned.

Today, with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into the country, the negative feelings towards the Syrians have not improved at all. There is little contempt for the refugees; Lebanon depends completely on international organizations to look after them. When snow covered the camps in the Bekaa in December, refugees died of the cold.

Amongst these refugees are many thousands of Kurds, says Goulistan Mohamed, executive secretary of the Lebanese Kurdish Philanthropic Association in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Based on a family size of six to 10, she puts their number surprisingly high, at a half-million, which is almost half of all the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

No official number has been put on the Kurdish refugees in Lebanon, who come from all over Syria: Damascus, Aleppo and even as far away as Hasaka and Qamishli. In comparison, just over 200,000 Syrian Kurds have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mohamed’s Kurdish association in Beirut was founded over 40 years ago to help Kurds in Lebanon, who mainly originate from Turkey and often were amongst the poorest in Lebanon.

The association’s clinic did not survive the civil war, and money to revive it has not been found. The organization only just survives on the donations of a wealthy Kurdish businessman and the membership fees.

It still offers medical help and medicines, food for Kurdish families in need and help for students to get into Lebanese schools. But now it works mainly as a cultural organization with a football team, Newroz celebrations, cultural conferences and Kurdish (Kurmanji) lessons. Plans to set up a school have been stalled for lack of finances.

“Now we try to help the refugees from Syria,” says Mohamed. “We direct them to the United Nations, and when they come to our office we offer them second-hand clothes for free.”

The organization tried in vain to get money to be able to do more. “The Lebanese minister of Social Affairs did not even meet us,” Mohamed says bitterly.

Nor was a bid to get support from the Iraqi Kurdistan government or its parties successful. Meetings with Kurdish ministers and party executives led to promises that were never fulfilled. “Maybe they just don’t want to help us,” she sighs.

Although Nawrez’s young family in Jounieh barely survives on his salary, he is aware that their life is better than that of most Kurds who fled to Lebanon. Their neighbors may be hostile, yet they live in an apartment overlooking the sea. “When we have money, we are okay. But many Syrians here have no job or a house.”

Their main problem is that they do not feel welcome. “There is no respect. And the Lebanese earn from us,” Nawrez complains. Any time he has to go into town at night, he has to leave his ID with the local police guarding the area, and only gets it back after paying.

Nawrez and Nariman would like to leave Lebanon for Iraqi Kurdistan, even though that would mean starting all over again. But they cannot.

“Because of the birth of Fatma, we have to get our family book from Ain al Arab, and that is far too dangerous,” Nariman says. “We live in a prison,” Nawrez adds sadly.



Qaraman | 8/1/2014
Although Kurdish refugees in Lebanon are not the responsibility of KRG we should contribute because they're Kurds, at the minimum KRG should facilitate any Kurd who want's to leave Lebanon. What I find disturbing is that Kurdish refugees are not a priority and getting the least assistance from the UN, it seems that UN resources mainly goes to Arab and christian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, the Kurds are the last to get any help and get the minimum. It took the UN over a years to contribute the minimum to the 250 thousand Syrian refugees in KRG. And maybe the hundreds of Lebanese companies who have established in KRG the past decade and are making barrels of money everyday can make some contribution to the Kurdish refugees in Lebanon? or are we only "lovely people" as long as other can make money on us?
Farakan | 8/1/2014
Everywhere in Turkey, Syria, Iran, Irak, Lebanon, Jordan, Kurds are looked as the last people to deserve help and respect, only Kurds will have freedom and respect whenever they achieve their own independent country, Nothing in between, they should fight to claim NO more NO less than their own country, the only way to guarantee a long lasting solution.
Hejar Hejar | 9/1/2014
Great point Qaraman! These countries have hundreds of companies inside Kurdistan and are making lots of money while at the same time treating Kurds in their countries as second or slave class citizens. This is all carrot approach with no stick. These countries will continue to take advantage of the Kurds until there's nothing left to take. Don't sell Kurdistan to its enemies! There will be very negative consequences in the long run for these policies. A great example is the Turkish one, they just cleared everyone involved in the massacre of 34 innocent Kurds in 2011. How is it that nobody is held accountable??? That was a message to all Kurds that Turks will never consider Kurds equal partners unless they can make loads of money off of them. That's not friendship! That's a "friend" as long as they can use you for their interests. These countries don't understand kindness, they only understand strength and violence.
JOE | 9/1/2014
hey guys take it easy ,I don't know why the writer put it as Lebanese have a problem with Syrian Kurd and that Lebanese doesn't like Syrian people,let me clarify: Lebanese people always had problem with the Syrian regime and not population and absolutely not Kurd that live in Lebanon since decade. also consider please that Lebanese population is about 4 million ,having political and economical crises because of the war in Syria ,without a government to manage the country since 9 month now, most of the young Lebanese work abroad and have Palestinian refugees and now about 1 million Syrian refugees 25% of the local population, can you tell me guys and please Mrs, writer how can somebody how have all this problems help others? do you know that Syrian illegal business grown in Lebanon since refugees arrived ?and not Lebanese business. Syrian workers are taking place of Lebanese workers because are cheaper. Than i really don't see Lebanese doing tons of money in Kurdistan just being here if they do it its because they work to make it and they know how to do business, the difference with the others and don't forget that Lebanese community was the bigger investor in Erbil, they are doing business and not stalling anyone. what you've said about Lebanese can be applied on American, British,German ,Emirati,as well as Israeli ,and every investor in Kurdistan,be logic please and try to do something positive , asking KRG and all Kurdish parties that won during election to help the Syrian refugees not only in Lebanon but also in Jordan and Turkey .
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