Unemployment, a major problem faced by Syrian refugees and their host Lebanese in Tyre
Every morning, hundreds of Syrian workers head to the fields on the outskirts of Tyre, southern Lebanon.
Some have got used to this task over the years, since they’ve been living and working in the city years before the war broke in their country. But for many others, this has not been the case back home.
With hosting 12,000 Syrian refugees, Tyre’s population increased by 8% since 2011, putting extra pressure on infrastructure, services and labour market.
“Syrian workers have been in Lebanon before the Syrian crisis.” Hasan Dabouk, Head of Tyre Municipality said. “They worked in construction, stone facades in particular, and agriculture, and were active in the market, as professionals and craftsmen.” He added.
As Syrian workers were no strangers to the city, and given the fact that Tyre is used to receiving foreigners who came to visit the city as one of the main touristic sites in South Lebanon, Tyre adapted to hosting the new comers.
“The idea of accepting foreigners is different in Tyre compared to other surrounding little villages.” Mr. Dabouk said. “Tyre is an open city with an open mindset, which helped in forming the approach to deal with the refugee presence.”
The economy in Tyre depends mainly on agriculture, with 44% of the land in the urban area of the district is agricultural land. Thus, employment in Tyre is dominant in agriculture, construction and service industries – often unskilled occupations against low salaries and income security. This explains why Tyre’s economy was heavily affected by the war in Syria, especially after the closure of exportation routs.
“Exporting our main agricultural products to Arab countries, was our main source of income,” Mr. Dabouk said. “Inevitably, Tyre’s economy was seriously affected with the border closing, as is the case all across Lebanon.”
As a result, tensions increased between Syrian refugees and their host communities driven primarily over job competition. 65% of refugee households perceived job competition to be the main source of tension with their host communities in Tyre.
This come in no surprise since approximately 47% of the Syrian refugees active in the labour market are unemployed in the City of Tyre, while 42% of Syrian refugee households in the city are involved in agriculture livelihood activities.
Tyre’s residents also share the same believe and see the Syrian labour competition as “unlawful”.
“I can imagine how hard it is for a person to be forced to leave their country, under bombing and threats, seeking refuge in another country.” Ayman Al Ghazal, Administrative Director of Tyre Municipality said. “No matter how welcoming the host communities were, the crisis has been here for a long time now, and our capabilities are limited.”
To help ease the tension, several NGOs provide community support and vocational training programs.
“We provided many workshops aiming at tackling social conflict and reducing tensions.” Dr. Darwich Choghri, from the Lebanese NGO Amel Association International, said. Amel targets both refugees and their host communities in its programs. “Our services target both communities equally.” Dr. Choghri added. “Unemployment is an old issue in Tyre. It existed before the Syrian Conflict and still does. It might have increased slightly, however it’s the Lebanese government’s responsibility to find solutions.”
For many other Lebanese, Syrian workers became an integral part in their lives, with relationships developed in the interest of both sides. “My relationship with them is similar to my relationship with the Lebanese workers. They’re now part of my community.” Said Mahmoud Saad, an agriculture landlord. “They are important for us, for the community and they are helping us a lot.”
With the majority of Syrian refugees being host in the most vulnerable Lebanese communities, the burdens could be felt and seen heavy where both sides live in deep poverty. Any solution should be comprehensive as both communities face the same problems. “Decreasing the difficulties faced by the Syrian refugees automatically reduces the Lebanese-Syrian conflict”. Dr. Choghri concluded.