The leader of the Maronite Catholic Church is worried. In 2022, the number of Syrian refugees now represents 35% of the total population of Lebanon, mainly of the Muslim faith, creating the risk of diluting the Christian identity of the country, a proportion that seemingly will not be reversed until a decision has been made by the government.
For Cardinal Béchara Boutros Rahi, the government's negligence in the face of the migration crisis is part of a “conspiracy against the unity, identity, and security of Lebanon,” because most of the refugees are of the Muslim faith which could lead to a dilution of Christian Lebanon.
According to data provided by the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Lebanon is now in second place among the States hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees in proportion to their population, not to mention Palestinian refugees who already numerous in the territory.
“We demand that the displaced Syrians be returned to their country, so that they can preserve the resources, culture, dignity and history of their land,” insists the Maronite patriarch, who stresses that this return would be above all linked to a political will on the part of the Lebanese executive, which is lacking at this time.
Msgr. Rahi's concern is based on the dramatic context that Lebanon has been experiencing for several years, since being plunged into one of the worst economic and political crises in its history. If 82% of the Lebanese population were to live below the poverty line, more than 90% of the Syrian refugees present in Lebanon would also be.
Needless to say, in such a context, the influx of refugees from neighboring Syria is not viewed favorably by the Lebanese population. A report published in 2020 by the Ministry of Finance, pointing out the impact of the migration crisis on the Lebanese economy between 2011 and 2018, estimates the cost of the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at 42 billion euros.
It is an immigration that affects all sectors, in particular those of education and electricity, but which has also caused a fall in the gross domestic product (GDP) at the very moment when the parity between the Lebanese pound and the dollar continues to deteriorate. Moreover, in a few years’ time, the national currency has lost more than 90% of its value against the dollar.
Faced with the deterioration of social and economic conditions, some Syrian refugees – even Palestinians, or Lebanese nationals – are playing the exodus card and going to Europe, most often via makeshift boats bound for the island of Cyprus.