As Europe and the United States are closing their doors to the world’s spiraling number of refugees, especially Syrians, the burden is intensifying in countries like Lebanon that border war zones and receive the vast majority of refugees.
When Syrians began streaming into Lebanon six years ago to escape their country’s war, around 1,000 of them found a welcome in the small Christian village of Miziara, in the pine-clad mountains of the north. That was until the discovery of the body of Raya Chidiac, 26, a daughter of one of the village’s wealthiest businessmen. She had been bound, raped and suffocated with a plastic bag. The Syrian caretaker at the family’s home confessed to the killing and was arrested and charged with murder.
The ensuing backlash against Syrians has rippled across Lebanon, exposing razor-sharp tensions between the country’s 1 million Syrian refugees and their hosts that increasingly threaten to open up Lebanon’s own fragile sectarian divisions. Syria’s neighbors are hosting 5 million Syrian refugees, compared with about 18,000 admitted by the United States and 1 million who have sought asylum in Europe. As the war in Syria drags into an eighth year with no sign either of an end to the fighting or a peace settlement that will guarantee safe returns, concerns are growing that the refugees will not be going home.
Chidiac’s killing touched a nerve among Lebanese who feel they are shouldering a disproportionate share of the refugee crisis. Calls are mounting for the refugees to be sent back regardless of conditions inside Syria. As for the Syrians living in Miziara, it was already too late. All of them, refugees or not, were ordered to leave the town after Chidiac was killed, setting a precedent many Syrians fear may soon be replicated across Lebanon.