IGP Stories

Hosting Syrian Refugees in Saida (Lebanon) Under Protracted Displacement: Unfolding Spatial and Social Exclusion


Howayda Al-Harithy, Abir Eltayeb, and Ali Khodr

07 July 2021

Lebanon has witnessed multiple waves of displaced people throughout its recent history, including the displacement of Palestinians to Lebanon after the occupation of Palestine in 1948, the internal displacement of families from occupied South Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 1978, and the influx of Syrian refugees after the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011. According to the UNHCR data from 2013 to 2015, the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon was around 150,000 people in January of 2013 but grew almost five-fold by December of 2013 to reach an estimated 804,848 people. This number peaked at 1,185,241 in 2015 (UNHCR 2015, 2017) and decreased to an estimate of 914,600 in 2019 (World Population Review 2020). These numbers are high relative to the total Lebanese population, which was estimated at 4 million people in 2019.

Given the country’s established history with Palestinian camps and the experience with their militarisation, the government of Lebanon adopted a no-camp policy since 2011 (UNHCR 2015, 2017). It also did not officially classify the Syrians who fled to Lebanon as refugees, labelling them as displaced persons with no legal rights to protection (Bidinger et al. 2014). As a result, municipalities and humanitarian aid agencies across cities and villages immediately mobilised to receive Syrian families depending on their capacities and previous experiences with hosting refugees. The families were often accommodated in tented and informal settlements or abandoned and overcrowded buildings.

Howayda Al-Harithy, Abir Eltayeb, and Ali Khodr wrote an article for the July 2021 issue of the International Journal of Islamic Architecture focusing on the mechanisms of social and spatial exclusion of Syrian refugees in Saida, Lebanon. Saida is a coastal city that is located 45 km to the south of the capital city of Beirut and forms the administrative, educational, and medical centre of South Lebanon. The article is based on research that the authors conducted in Saida – primarily in 2017, 2018, and early 2019 – and included the collection of data from the municipality and interviews with key actors to understand the mobilization of aid throughout the city. The research also included several conversations and friendly encounters with refugee communities who shared stories around the difficulties of integrating into their host communities.

As such, the article focused on the process of hosting Syrian refugees in Saida after 2011. It explored service provisions and the two dominant types of housing for Syrian refugees: collective shelters and single apartments within local neighbourhoods. It argued that mechanisms of exclusion emerge with intensity in cities like Saida that have received and accommodated multiple waves of displacement. Such mechanisms of exclusion in Saida are politically attuned to the historical depth of the hosting experience and emerge at multiple levels, both social and spatial. This is despite Saida’s mobilization to provide aid, and its departure from housing refugees in camps, which is based on a model of containment, and its move toward housing refugees across the urban landscape, which is based on a model of disbursement.

You can read the full article on the International Journal of Islamic Architecture's website.

Image credit:Howayda Al-Harithy, Abir Eltayeb, and Ali Khodr

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