Eviction of refugees from Beirut building sparks xenophobic comments online

Refugees in Beirut were evicted from their building on May 22, 2019.
Refugees in Beirut were evicted from their building on May 22, 2019.

Dozens of refugees in Beirut were evicted on May 22 from the building they were living in under orders from the governor, sparking a flurry of comments online about the country’s treatment of foreigners.

Evictions are common in Lebanon, but online users said that targeting the refugees, many of whom are Syrian, was racist and discriminatory.

In a video of the displaced tenants that circulated widely on social media, the man filming called out the lack of “respect” toward the refugees. “Look at what it is like for Syrians, do you see them?” the man asks in the video. “Those who want to come to Lebanon... We throw them out into the streets.”

A video of the evicted refugees in the Al-Msaytbeh neighbourhood in central Beirut.

Some online users expressed disgust at the way the refugees were being treated, while others wrote that they should “go home.”

"They should leave us alone... There are Lebanese people who really want a roof over their heads and a job,” one Facebook user commented.

"A sad scene that makes your heart go cold,” another Facebook user commented.

“It’s easier when the residents are refugees”

Wadi al-Asmar, president of the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights, said the evicted group was living legally in the country.

More than 100 people were living in this four-story building, most of them Syrian but also some immigrant workers from Bangladesh. All of them had papers. Some had work permits while others had documents from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These people were likely living on top of one another in extremely crowded conditions.

Beirut governor Ziad Chbib, who ordered the eviction, said in his decision that the residential building had been transformed into individual units rented to “non-Lebanese nationals” and that it did not meet health and safety requirements. He also added that the building was the site of “immoral behaviour.”

Beirut governor Ziad Chibb’s May 22 official decision to evict the refugees.

"It may not be xenophobic, but it is definitely inhumane"

Al-Asmar said evictions with little notice were common in Lebanon and that refugees were particularly vulnerable.

It is easier to carry out eviction decisions like this one when the people targeted are marginalised members of society, like these refugees. The governor stated in his decision that the people affected were “non-Lebanese,” as if that justified the eviction in some way. These tenants had paid their rent for May. The evictions could have been delayed by a week, allowing them to finish out the month and find other accommodation. But instead, they were barely given enough time to gather their belongings before being put out on the streets.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees told France 24 some of the more vulnerable tenants, including families with children, were offered alternative accommodations.


“Xenophobic comments”

Al-Asmar said he was disappointed by the reactions on social media.

The incident sparked many racist and xenophobic comments, especially towards Syrians, who were told to go back to their own country. And while there is no proof that the governor was motivated by racism or xenophobia, his decision was still inhumane.

There are around 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, according to the United Nations. Their presence in the country has been a source of tension for top officials. In March, the minister for foreign affairs said that the hardline immigration policy adopted in eastern Europe was a “model to follow.”