“The Lebanese” problem of The New York Times

There is an important article in yesterday’s New York Times, where aid agencies tell the paper the Lebanese government has rejected efforts to install roofs over Syrian refugees’ heads.

It is a tragic and inhumane decision and those government officials who made it should be named and held accountable. But none of this happens in the article. Instead blame is put on “the Lebanese” people as a whole, not the individuals empowered to take such decisions.

For example:

1. “In the eyes of the Lebanese, the box shelters… look too permanent and could encourage the Syrians to stay.

2. “the Lebanese view even the most modest of new shelters for Syrians with suspicion.

3. “The Lebanese have so far rejected the establishment of any refugee camp, citing their long, troubled history with Palestinian camps on their soil. 

Not only does this reporter claim the entire “Lebanese” nation reject roofs for Syrians, they all apparently cite the same reason, which can only be described in the same stereotypical New York Times framework as, what? “The Lebanese logic”?

Now it may be true that many Lebanese have fears–especially those nourished during the bloodbath of the fairly recent civil war–but it is also true that many Lebanese do not oppose helping and housing Syrians.

In fact, as I reported two months ago for Al Jazeera, “The Lebanese” have sheltered some 36,000 refugees at their homes for free. This figure, which did not make it in the New York Times article above, is in addition to the the thousands that have been put up in abandoned Lebanese-owned buildings and properties with the financial support of relief agencies.

It is also true that thousands of “The Lebanese” have pitched in to help in other ways, serving meals, organizing clothing drives and, in fact, most of the humanitarian workers on the ground are Lebanese, including the man interviewed by the Times reporter in this article, who was actually installing the box shelters.

Yes there are some anxieties– and different levels of them– about permanent settlement and that may be related to the very little help “The Lebanese” have been given to deal with so many multiple crises over recent decades. Just this week I reported that the state has received less than 0.1 percent of its aid appeal to the international community, which has accepted less than 0.06 percent of the refugees in Lebanon for asylum in their own countries. I also reported that a quarter of ‘the Lebanese” already live in poverty and some in a similar situation as the Syrians.

Despite all this, fear of permanent settlement is not the same as putting a temporary roof over a family’s head. Whoever has made this conflation should be held accountable for it. And yes more of “The Lebanese” need to start asking those questions. But stereotyping an entire nation is not going to get us closer to the answers.


Those who want to help can donate clothes and blankets this weekend at BIEL. Thanks to Reine for pointing out the article.

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