The protection of Syrian refugees in Lebanon raises a myriad of challenges for civil society organisations and the Lebanese government. The human rights narrative is not well received among the Lebanese community. Human rights in refugee protection is perceived as a tool that is exploited by Syrian refugees to benefit more than the host communities.
A rights-based approach to the Syrian refugee crisis is key to establishing sustainable solutions for the current conflict, while preventing further polarisation. Furthermore, ALEF believes this crisis should not be limited to a technical debate or discussion among key experts. Through rigorous training, stakeholders, Lebanese and Syrian, must change the perceptions of the Lebanese community towards Syrian refugee committees.
ALEF’s project entitled “Engaging Communities in Tackling Security Challenges” was launched in September 2015, to change the way both groups view themselves and the other. ALEF started the project by conducting a baseline study to confirm the belief of an already existing negative perceptions towards Syrian refugees, and its different manifestations in both host and refugee communities.
To verify that such stereotypes exist, ALEF organized a two-day visit to the city of Al Marj in the West Bekaa. With support of students from Notre-Dame University – Louaize, ALEF handed out questionnaires and conducted interviews and meetings. The questionnaires were distributed randomly to the Syrian refugee population as well as the Lebanese host community. Interviews were also conducted randomly with both populations. Finally, meetings were organized with local stakeholders such as community leaders, municipalities, MP’s, and “Mukhtars”.
Simultaneously, ALEF formed a group of Lebanese and Syrian volunteers to provide them with the necessary skills to reinforce their knowledge in human rights, refugee protection and conflict resolution. This way they could play a stronger and more active role in their communities during the Syrian refugee crisis. ALEF chose to work with local activists because of the importance of sustaining the ideas of the intervention after its termination.
This intervention on the grassroots level is considered new as previous efforts have not tackled human rights issues from a protection-based approach. Past interventions have mostly excluded Syrian stakeholders from the early stages of preparation and planning.
Additionally, focus groups were prepared in order to decide on a topic that affected both Lebanese and Syrian communities in order to address them through a community action. After several focus group sessions, the group decided that “Violence in Schools” was the most important topic to be discussed.
Currently, ALEF is drafting an advocacy campaign strategy that will lay down the groundwork for the upcoming month. During the month of August, the group, with technical support from ALEF, will conduct meetings with relevant stakeholders in order to advocate for possible education policy changes.
The final phase of the project will take place in September 2016, during which the participants, with the support of ALEF, will organize an event in Al Marj. The participants will present the findings and achievements of the project. Both Lebanese and Syrian constituencies will be invited to the event, as well as stakeholders, NGOs, and government officials.
This project will be used as an example of effective conflict management and prevention for future similar initiatives in other locations in Lebanon.