By KAREEM CHEHAYEB
BEIRUT (AP) — Discrimination and violence against Syrian refugees in Lebanon has soared in recent weeks as the country grapples with high food prices and shortages, the U.N. refugee agency told the Associated Press on Friday.
“We have seen tensions between Lebanese and Syrians at bakeries across the country,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Paula Barrachina told the AP. “In some cases even involving shooting and using sticks against refugees.”
The U.N.’s World Food Program says Lebanon is facing a food security crisis, with about half the population food insecure. People are also grappling with high food inflation and a currency that’s tanked over the past three years.
Barranchina said some parts of Lebanon have issued curfews for refugees or asked bakeries to prioritize Lebanese citizens.
According to a notice obtained by the AP, bakeries in Baalbek were ordered to prioritize Lebanese citizens for subsidized Arabic flatbread.
One Syrian refugee told the AP earlier this month that he was forced to wait several hours at a bakery as they prioritized giving bread bundles to Lebanese first.
In one video shared on social media, a group of men in Lebanon’s Bourj Hammoud neighborhood near the capital beat a Syrian adolescent boy with sticks and kicked him the face near a bakery. Sounds of gunshots ring out in the background.
Lebanese authorities last week announced the formation of a security committee to stifle fights and scuffles at bakeries.
The UNHCR called on Lebanese authorities to “ensure the rule of law and the protection of all persons in the country”, while urging the international community to shore up aid to the country.
Lebanese lawmakers voted to spend a $150 million World Bank loan on importing more wheat in the hopes of bringing down the price domestically.
About 1 million Syrian refugees who fled their country’s civil war reside in neighboring Lebanon. Most live in extreme poverty.
Since 2019, poverty has deepened for across the country for all its residents. A growing number of Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians living in the country are embarking almost weekly on a dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean to seek refuge in Europe.
Lebanese officials have increasingly called for the forcible return of Syrian refugees to areas in their country they deem safe from the conflict, and have accused them overwhelming the country’s already crumbling infrastructure.
While armed conflict has subsided in much of Syria, human rights organizations and the UNHCR say conditions are not safe for many people to return. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say they have documented cases of arbitrary detention, torture, and a host of human rights abuses to returnees.
The Lebanese government has dismissed these concerns. They are coordinating with the Syrian government in Damascus on a plan that could see up to 15,000 refugees sent back to the country each month.
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