Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Debunking the Myth of “Syrian” Crime in Lebanon


It’s a popular tactic among Lebanese to pin blame on Syrians for the bulk of the country’s daily crime. What’s at the root of this knee-jerk racism? And, in order to sustain such racist views, what facts about Lebanese crime are being ignored?
It is now difficult to hide the restlessness of Lebanese concerning the daily influx of Syrians into the country. The reason is not just politics, although it remains an excuse for some to complain about a regime opponent here or a loyalist there. Conflicts are erupting even in villages hosting Syrians who agree with them politically.
However, when Syrians park their car in the wrong place, they get chided for not daring to do so in their country. If they open a restaurant, drive a taxi, or find a humble job, they get accused of crowding the Lebanese out of a living. If they beg in the street, they are viewed as a stain on the city’s image.
This has become the backdrop of news about fights between young Syrian and Lebanese men, but it’s only a glimpse of the entire picture. What if we begin by trying to understand the situation using the Lebanese accusations of “Syrian” crime as a starting point?
“Syrians Are Stealing”
It would be easy to miss the small news items that appear on the National News Agency crime bulletin. “Robberies in Various Areas,” reads one headline. Thefts occur every day and they are on the rise constantly.
However, a news story from last Friday was attention-grabbing, primarily because of the media’s fixation on the nationalities of the victims and perpetrators. The story described four robberies with Syrians as their victims. Having been robbed in various areas, from Baalbeck to Beirut’s Sin el-Fil, the first was robbed while walking alongside the road, the second in a taxi, and the others, migrant workers, at home.
Frankly, for those who are disheartened about daily news of Lebanese racism, it was good news. It is the best reply to claims that Syrians are behind every crime. However, looking into such crimes might bring back some sense. Crimes are committed by criminals, regardless of nationality.
“We Need A Curfew”
This is another recurring news item. Municipalities in various areas of Lebanon are taking precautions to control the movement of Syrians. The newsworthiness of such stories is in the magnitude of discrimination against Syrians in such procedures.
The municipality of Baskinta, among others, declared, for the second time, a curfew on Syrians after 8 pm. The first announcement came in July 2012 and warned “citizens and Syrians that violations and thefts happening at night cannot be solved with compromise or concessions, especially since some town residents intervene to protect the Syrian working for them, even if he’s guilty.”
However, only people following the issue knew about the press conference held by municipality head Tanios Ghanem on 10 April 2013. Ghanem described one of the area’s bigger thefts that had been carried out by Lebanese. He stressed however that they were from the Bekaa, but he didn’t “know their sect or party affiliation.”
Statistics of Lebanese Crime
Responding to a request from Al-Akhbar, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) provided statistics about Syrian victims of crime in Lebanon between March 2011 and 19 March 2013. The figures show that 12 Syrians were murdered, 496 were robbed, 86 pickpocketed, and 117 physically assaulted.
On the other side, statistics concerning Syrians arrested in the same period are connected to 122 murders, 103 robberies, 1,572 thefts, 313 assaults, 352 drug-related, 32 rapes, and 2,593 different crimes (such as begging or quarrels in the streets), for a total of 5,042 detainees.
Before judging, the numbers must be seen in context. First, the arrest of a particular person does not automatically point to guilt. Hundreds of the above detainees have not been subject to trial yet. This means the numbers could be lower.
Knowing the size of the Syrian community in Lebanon (workers and refugees), which is close to 1.5 million people, the numbers seem normal. Moussallem agrees, explaining that “the entry of such a huge number of people into Lebanon, whatever their nationality, will impact security.”
Moussallem objects to linking crime with nationality. “The number of [arrested] Syrians is high, since they are the largest community in Lebanon and this is why the numbers pop up,” he explains. “Available statistics do not show any correlation between crime and nationality.”
Moussallem goes further, adding that Syrians “are also the highest proportion of work accident victims and most daily crimes occur against them.” He indicates that many are robbed in the streets but do not file complaints.

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