Lebanon: From a Host Nation to a Port of Departure?

Participants together with Liberal MP Michel Moawad.

During last week, we hosted a visiting program on Migration with the support of the FNF Lebanon and Syria office. The FNF Madrid Policy Group composed by liberal policy makers and experts from across Europe, North and West Africa, and the Middle East had the opportunity to get to know the reality of migration management in Lebanon first-hand.

Lebanon has a population of 5.6 million people, of whom 1.5 million are Syrian refugees. A figure which places the country as the largest recipient of refugee population per capita in the world. This scenario has been compounded by a new reality that has put Lebanon at the center of attention for European policymakers and experts: the dire economic situation has led to an increase in irregular departures by boat towards Europe. The migration landscape in Lebanon is shaped by three factors: its role as an emigration hub, a host country for refugees, and a destination for migrant workers.

Lebanon, from destination to origin country?

The FNF Madrid Migration Policy Group had the opportunity to hear about the challenges and to learn from the experiences of a wide array of stakeholders and actors in the migration field. Representatives from think tanks, universities, and migrant entrepreneurship ecosystems, such as the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, the Samir Kassir Foundation, the ALsama Project, and the EU delegation, among others, shed light on how migration processes shape opportunities and economic challenges in Lebanon, as both a country of origin and destination.

Furthermore, the agenda included a launch event of the study “Conflict, Crisis and Migration. A Database Study of maritime irregular Migration to Lebanon since 2019”, which took place at the University of Saint Joseph, in Beirut. The event gathered more than 50 participants, which included local politicians, representatives of public entities, the academic sector, and from international organizations. The study was carried out by the researchers Ibrahim Jouhari and Dr. Jasmin Lilian Diab, with the support of the FNF Madrid office. In this analysis, the experts delve into clandestine migration from Lebanon since the crisis began in the country in 2019. A crippled economy, and a port explosion, on top of a pandemic, have impacted severely the situation in the country.  An increasing number of people have thus started leaving Lebanon at unprecedented rates. In this research paper, the two authors provided data they have collected and included policy recommendations with a focus on a sustainable approach to the theme.

The last day of the visiting program took place in the city of Tripoli in the North and included a visit to a reception center and an informal settlement for refugees managed by the  UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The day started with a meeting with  UNHCR representatives, a visit to the reception center, and a visit to an informal settlement where the members of the Migration policy group listened to first-hand refugees’ testimonials. 

A liberal vision for Lebanon's Future and its Relationship with the EU

Exchanges with liberal Lebanese politicians have been included at different occasions of the program, such as the MP Michel Moawad, a member of the Renewal Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament; MP Ibrahim Mneimneh,  who was elected to one of the Sunni seats, and the former MP Mustapha Allouch,  a member of Future Movement.

In the exchange with liberal Lebanese politicians, one of the most relevant issues was the future of Lebanon and its relationship with EU, especially taking into account the recent change in the international community's approach towards Syria.

Syria returned to the Arab League after a 12-year ban and is entering a stage that many experts consider one of normalization and stability. Nevertheless, the Syrian refugee situation is still on the international agenda, and the EU considers it of high priority. Not only hosts Lebanon 1.5 million Syrian refugees, but also Germany opened its doors to more than one million Syrian refugees, in 2015.

The spotlight is on the upcoming Brussels VII Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, which is going to be held in June, where liberals should have a word to say.

Lebanese MP Moawad highlighted that since Syria was walking towards stability and the EU should put its efforts into a safe voluntary return to Syria in order to alleviate the economic and social situation in Lebanon. Moawad believes that the only way forward to Lebanon is “a change through liberal democracy”.  In this line, MP Ibrahim Mneimneh stressed the importance of establishing legal pathways with the EU and channeling labor forces in a systematized way.

Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Member of the European Parliament (FDP/RENEW Europe), mentioned that all efforts are currently focused on the adoption of the Pact on Migration and Asylum by the Member States and the strengthening of relations with third key countries.