The Micropolitics of refugee crisis management: the case of Lebanon's municipalities

In collaboration with:Dr Billie Jeanne Brownlee

Researcher - Dr Billie Jeanne Brownlee (University of Exeter) 
PI - Associate Professor William Gallois (University of Exeter)

The outbreak of the armed conflict in Syria in 2011 has resulted in one of the largest refugee crises since World War II, with more than 4 million refugees fleeing war mostly to neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Lebanon is especially affected by this situation. Out of 4.4 million inhabitants, its territory is currently hosting around 1.2 million refugees from Syria, 6000 Iraqi refugees and nearly 450000 refugees from Palestine. The UN Commissioner for Refugees described it as "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era", which is not simply putting at risk the lives of those fleeing the conflict but it is also putting to test the responses of the host countries now that that the protracted nature of the refugee crisis has necessitated long-term solutions. The provision of basic services such as waste management, water, primary healthcare and education, is putting pressure on local economies. In these contexts, tensions between host communities and refugees are a growing phenomenon due to deteriorating access to basic services, competition for livelihoods and opportunities, the reawakening of religious and ethnic friction, but also, crucially, the impact on the political economy of the country, with cheap labour being readily available and rent prices constantly on the rise. The politics of response of the countries of first asylum is particularly important as this affects the life conditions of refugees and those of the hosting communities.

Compared with other host countries, Lebanon - which has received one third of the refugees from Syria, constituting a much higher proportion in relation to the domestic population - has also adopted a "no camp" policy, adding strain to local communities' economies and infrastructure. The country includes more than 1,000 municipalities, mostly small and with a weak administrative and fiscal structure, organised under Municipal Unions. Three municipal unions located in the North, Bekaa and South governorates are the ones that are the most afflicted by the refugee crisis, with often a refugee population that overtakes the hosting community. They are also the primary institutions operating on the ground in the everyday management of the refugees, mediating their situation in the context of Lebanese society as well as negotiating their demands vis a vis governmental and international agencies. The purpose of this study is to understand the politics of response to the refugee crisis at municipal and district level in Lebanon in order to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian response and provide stakeholders with on-the-ground knowledge of the political dimension of the refugee phenomenon in Lebanon. In particular the intent of this research project is:

a. To provide an overview of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon over the past 5 years contextualising it with the specificities of its territory, history and politics.

b. To understand the problematique of establishing refugee camps in Lebanon as a consequence of the Palestinian experience and thereby the significant role that municipalities play in the response to the refugee crisis.

c. To conduct extensive fieldwork, interviews and focus group discussions with key local informants in three municipalities in the three governorates most affected by the refugee crisis: Dannieh Union (municipalities: Assoun; Bikasfreen; Deir el Nbouh); Baalbeck Union (municipalities: Baalbeck, Doures, Tybeh); Tyre Union (Bazourayeh; Ein Baal; Bourj el Shamale). This will provide a picture of the challenges and needs of the host and refugee communities.

d. To set a model of intervention based on a hybrid and decentralised relief-development approach that places municipalities at the centre of the coordination response. e. To elaborate a model of intervention in the context of protracted displacement crises in light of other international cases.

e