Media push to defuse Syrian-Lebanese tension

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Minister of Information Melhem Riachi and UN Special Co-ordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag attend the August 3rd launch of a media campaign to reduce tensions between Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities. [Photo courtesy of the office of the Minister of Information]

Minister of Information Melhem Riachi and UN Special Co-ordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag attend the August 3rd launch of a media campaign to reduce tensions between Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities. [Photo courtesy of the office of the Minister of Information]

The first phase of a new media campaign that intends to ease tensions between Syrian refugees and their Lebanese host communities kicked off in early August.

The purpose of the campaign is two-fold, Information Minister Melhem Riachi said at the August 3rd launch.

"There is a need for the Lebanese to reassure the Syrian that he will not be expelled from Lebanon and no hatred will be incited against him in any way, and also a need for the Syrian to reassure the Lebanese that he will return to his home country," he said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a number of donor countries are partnering in the campaign, which is titled, "I will return to my country and invite you to visit me".

Speaking at the launch, UN Special Co-ordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag said the time is right "to address the issues of tolerance, social cohesion and dialogue".

She highlighted the need to focus on this issue "until conditions are conducive for a voluntary, safe and dignified return of the refugees to their country".

Defusing tensions

The campaign will help to pave the way for a safe and orderly return of the refugees, with "love and gratitude for good neighbourliness", said Ghassan Abu Chakra, an advisor to the Minister of Information.

"Lebanon hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, or more than a quarter of its population," he told Al-Mashareq. "This presents Lebanon with massive economic, social, political and security challenges."

"Today, Lebanon is bracing for a new wave of refugees due to the protraction of the war in Syria," he said. "Every increase in their number and delay in their return to their homes contributes to ramping up the tension."

Sensing the seriousness of the situation, he said, the Ministry of Information "deemed it necessary to confront all the challenges and mitigate their negative repercussions" and decided to roll out the media campaign.

The campaign is designed "to promote understanding and tolerance, foster empathy and dispel misinformation that gives rise to concerns in Lebanese host communities", he added.

In addition to educating the public about the role of the UNHCR in providing relief and support to both refugees and host communities, the campaign will address the rights and duties of refugees and host communities, he said.

It will seek to highlight "Lebanon's kindness, generosity and humanity, manifest by its hosting of such a large number of refugees", Abu Chakra said.

Increasing empathy

The main goal is to "increase empathy for the refugees and assert that international organisations and the international community are absolutely not working to integrate, nationalise or settle the refugees in Lebanon", he said.

This will be done by highlighting the refugees’ desire to return quickly and safely to their homes at the earliest opportunity, as soon as security and peace are restored, he said, and by stressing that their presence is "only temporary".

Abu Chakra said the campaign was launched in audio-visual and print media and on social media, and will include conferences and lectures, art exhibitions, training workshops and video and poster competitions at universities.

It is expected to cost $350,000.

The first phase, which will run for six months, will focus on the relations between Lebanese host communities and Syrian refugees, while subsequent phases will promote Lebanon as a country of dialogue and co-existence.

"UNHCR planned this campaign some time ago, but sees that it is needed now more than ever before, given the surge in animosity towards the refugees in the media, on social networking sites and among the public," UNHCR assistant communication/public information officer Lisa Abu Khaled told Al-Mashareq.

Social media movement

The campaign aims to defuse tensions, maintain protective space for refugees, curb xenophobia, foster empathy, raise awareness, mobilise support and highlight the humanitarian dimension of their plight, Abu Khaled said.

It intends to do this by activating a social media movement that hails Lebanese hospitality, which involves "well-known public figures including journalists, celebrities, politicians and actors", she added.

"We hope the campaign will persuade those who oppose [the refugees'] presence to learn more about them and share their feelings to develop more sympathy and appreciation for them, and cast this issue in a humanitarian light," she said.

Lebanese citizen Milad Yammine, who works as a hairdresser in Mazraat Yachouh in the Metn district, welcomed the campaign, saying it is "necessary given the recent acrimony between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees".

"It is not their fault that they came to Lebanon. Tragic circumstances forced them to escape death and bloodshed," he said.

"Some Lebanese have an issue with them, but that should not carry over to the rest of the community," he said. "I have a Syrian hairdresser working for me who is courteous and polite. He does not bother me in any way. He does his job very well, and I appreciate him."

Do you like this article?

0 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500