Antoine N. Frem
-Chairman, INDEVCO Management Resources Inc.
-Chairman, Interstate Resources Inc. USA
-Chairman, Board of UNIPAK
-Member, Advisory Board of the Institute of Family and Entrepreneurial Business at the Lebanese American University
-Member, Board of the Lebanese Management Association (LMA)
-Member, Board of the YMCA
-Member, Board of Directors of AMIDEAST, Washington, D.C.
-Member, Board of Directors of the Children Cancer Center Lebanon (CCCL) affiliated with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
-Member, Caux Round Table: a network of senior business leaders around the world dedicated to corporate responsibility
-Past Member and former Chairman, Board of Trustees of Lebanese American University
The following is a speech given by Mr. Antoine Frem at Columbia University on October 13, 2016 at a symposium entitled “Refugee Integration: Developing a New Paradigm Shift.”
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is certainly a great pleasure for me to be here today, and to address the challenges preventing the integration of refugees in Lebanon.
My participation in this symposium will be drawn from my experience as the Mayor of the city of Jounieh, Lebanon for the past six years and the challenges that we have been faced with due to the huge influx of the Syrian refugees into Lebanon.
Lebanon has been for the past five years very hospitable and welcoming towards the Syrian refugees and has kept its borders open for the huge number of Syrians, and the Lebanese Community has been trying hard to integrate the refugees in its educational, social and labor systems.
However, in order for Lebanon to qualify as a HOST country, the following are prerequisites that should be met:
1- Geography/area: The host country must have a large enough territory, a sizeable population and a low to normal population density to accommodate a huge influx of refugees. Unfortunately, Lebanon is a very small country of 4,000 square miles with very high density of population at 500 persons per km².
2- The host country should be rich in natural resources; Lebanon has none. We are enduring from scarcity of water. Lebanon is a mountainous country with very small land available for agriculture.
3- Solid Infrastructure system: Lebanon‘s infrastructure is damaged and Lebanon needs today around $6.2 billion for the reconstruction of its infrastructure. We have an acute power shortage, poor to non-existent sewage treatment facilities, and unbearable traffic jams from overcrowded roads.
4- Strong economy: Lebanon’s economy is very weak with $60 billion in government debt, lack of job opportunities, and a very low GDP growth.
5- Strong state: Lebanon is a weak state, with a very delicate and fragile social fabric made up of 18 religious sects, including Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Maronite Catholic Christians, Orthodox Christians, Druze, Armenians, and others…and the massive influx of Syrian refuges and their integration threatens to upset Lebanon’s national character and social fabric as a plural society, and threatens Lebanon’s fragile demographic balance, and the political social contract that is based on a power sharing arrangement between its 18 religious sects which is called “the Taif Agreement” where the president is a Christian Maronite Catholic, the speaker of the house is a Shia Muslim, and the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the parliament is divided 50% Christians and 50% Muslims. And it is Lebanon’s democratic and pluralistic social fabric that shielded it from becoming a dictatorship such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Assad in Syria.
And any change in Lebanon’s delicate demographic balance due to the integration of the Syrian refugees will lead to instabilities in Lebanon and to a Failed State, and Lebanon will “implode.”
As a conclusion: Lebanon does NOT qualify to be a Host Country.
It is time for the international community to know and acknowledge that Lebanon’s constitution and the national pact legacy do not allow any kind of integration, or permanent resettlement of the Syrian refugees. LEBANON CAN NO LONGER SUPPORT THE BURDEN OF THE SYRIAN REFUGEEF CRISIS ALONE.
Lebanon today has reached a degree of compassion fatigue and it is on the verge of a socioeconomic and security explosion.
As we said earlier, Lebanon has a very high population density of almost 500 persons per km², as compared to very low population density in Iraq of 80 per/ km², Turkey 99 per/ km², USA 33 per/ km². And with the already existing 1.5 million Syrian refugees (plus 60,000 newborn babies, most of them undocumented and without birth certificate i.e. neither Syrian nor Lebanese. They are stateless!!!) Lebanon’s population density has increased drastically to almost 680 persons per km².
This comparison would be as if the U.S. had to suddenly host about 95 million people in a far less dense country…
Just imagine what impact would this influx have on a big country such as the U.S.? What will happen to the melting pot? to the social fabric and national and unity values? and to the ONE Man-One Vote???
During my term as Mayor of Jounieh we have taken several measures, and put in place a number of action plans to help those refugees and try to accommodate them in the city. However, the continuous refugee influx had negatively impacted several sectors, mainly the following:
1- Increased poverty and hygiene problems – raw sewage dumped in the sea and garbage collection is a problem.
2- Competition for jobs and business which is one of the most if not the most urgent challenges facing Lebanon, especially that Syrian refugee workers are highly willing to work under difficult conditions for lower salaries and longer working hours without any social security benefits, which is resulting in a replacement of the Lebanese work force by a Syrian work force and this is a major problem for a country like Lebanon, which already suffers from lack of job creation causing many talented young Lebanese to emigrate.
3- Increased prices and shortages: In particular, that increased demand on rental housing, food and other commodities has exerted an upward pressure on prices, and higher demand on water and electricity is causing shortages.
4- Impact on healthcare services: Increased demand on healthcare services has impacted hospitals and medical dispensaries.
5- Impact on the educational sector: most public schools in the city cannot accommodate the huge number of refugees even though some of the schools are operating two shifts.
Also, the educational curriculum and languages differs between Lebanon and Syria (science and math are taught in English or French in Lebanon while it is taught in Arabic in Syria and there are no books nor teachers to teach in Arabic.) Furthermore, the large number of 600,000 refugee children and youth have no access to schooling and education will remain illiterate and in few years we will face a “LOST GENERATION,” which is uneducated and severely traumatized, a fertile ground for radicalism and fanaticism.
6- Impact on security and safety: increased number of theft and crimes, and frictions with local population causing violence. Today in Lebanon 40% of prison population is comprised of Syrians, and our judicial body and legal system cannot cope.
7- Threat of terrorism: the refugee camps and squatters constitute a fertile ground for DORMANT TERRORIST CELLS and lone wolves… the most critical is Arsal on the Lebanese Syrian border; it has a population of 30,000 and 100,000 Syrian refugees. It is now becoming a hot spot for terrorism keeping the Lebanese Army on a state of alert due to the many ISIS incursions.
8- Social impact: increased human trafficking taking advantage of the prevailing poverty of the Syrian refugees.
Where do we go from here?
It is not sufficient for the international community to provide “relief money and funds” to help the Syrian refugees. Any support should address the needs of the Lebanese communities IN PARALLEL so that the refugee crisis won’t result in a much bigger crisis for Lebanon itself.
Lebanon’s sovereignty, entrepreneurship, resilient spirit, and free economy must be safeguarded to contribute to the rebuilding of Syria and be at the forefront of the reintegration of Syrian refugees in their home communities upon their return to their home country.
The cost of putting an end to the Syrian crisis is much less than the cost that will be paid by the countries hosting this influx of refugees and lost generations to potential terrorism and radicalism.
As a closing note: The paramount objectives of the international community should be:
First, to help and facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to their country and the need to establish a roadmap for the refugees’ right of return and home coming.
Second, to help Lebanon to implement a strategy for survival to safeguard Lebanon as a sovereign state and its uniqueness as a model for coexistence.
The Syrian refugees in Lebanon should be relocated to a dedicated “secure zone” within Syria itself - Lebanon is only 5% of the size of Syria and I am sure we can find this 5% parcel of land which will be under the protection of the United Nations Forces (as an example in Lebanon there are 15,000 U.N. troops on the Lebanese-Israeli border creating a non-incursion peaceful zone.)
Lebanon cannot survive and will cease to be the Lebanon you all know if a permanent settlement or integration of the Syrian refugees takes place. Especially that the aggravated refugee crisis is threatening the existence of Lebanon, and Lebanon’s CONSOCIATIONAL Democracy is challenged!!!
In downtown Beirut, the largest Cathedral is only few meters from the largest Mosque in the country, and the sound of Church bells are in harmony with the Mosque’s calls to prayers. This has always been Lebanon’s uniqueness, and there is a big danger to lose this coexistent identity due to the abrupt overpopulation and the demographic imbalance caused by the influx of refugees.
Lebanon can be a TEMPORARY HOST country for a limited number of Syrian refugees, PROVIDED that it does not become a LOST country to refugees.
Pope Jean Paul II, during his visit to Lebanon, said, “Lebanon is not a country; it is a message.”
Please help us keep “Lebanon the Message” ALIVE.