Syrian refugee Abu Adnan was rushing his newborn to the doctor one night in the Lebanese town of Rmeish when municipal police stopped him and began questioning him. He was in violation of a municipal curfew that prevents Syrian refugees from leaving their homes between sunset and sunrise.
“They began questioning me — ‘Where are you going? Why?'” he told AFP, speaking on condition that a pseudonym be used.
Eventually he was allowed to continue, but was followed to and from the doctor’s office, ensuring that he returned straight home.
This is just one example of what Syrian refugees and local activists say is increasing pressure on, and even outright racism against, Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees — roughly a quarter of its population — and has regularly been praised for opening its borders to those fleeing the brutal conflict in its neighbour.
But the refugee influx has strained resources and tempers, with some Lebanese viewing the years-long presence of Syrians as a burden, even an imposition.
Some municipalities have taken matters into their own hands, imposing curfews on refugees, ordering night raids on their homes, evicting them or even making them clean the streets.
“Lately, things have become very difficult,” said Abu Adnan.
“Once, a group of drunken young men broke into the home of some Syrian refugees and started beating and cursing them,” he said.
“The municipality did nothing for the Syrians; instead it evicted dozens from their homes.”
OBLIGATION TO PROTECT REFUGEES
Such incidents spiked again recently after a string of suicide bombers attacked Al-Qaa village on Lebanon’s border with Syria.
Reports initially suggested the attackers had come from nearby refugee settlements, though that was later denied by Interior Minister Nuhad Mashnuq.
Lebanese activists say the security fears of citizens are being manipulated by some to justify measures against the Syrians.
On Monday evening, a “march against racism” took place in Beirut.
Several dozen demonstrators carried placards declaring “No to the curfew”, “Racism threatens civil peace” and “Security forces only attack the weak”.
A Lebanese protester holds a placard reading in Arabic, “No to racism” on July 18, 2016, Beirut
Rights groups have urged Lebanon to protect Syrians escaping the war that began in March 2011 and has killed more than 280,000 people.
“Amnesty International is concerned about recent reports of harassment and physical abuse of Syrian refugees including arbitrary arrests and forced evictions from informal settlements,” said its refugee researcher Khairunissa Dhala.
She said Lebanon has “international obligations to protect Syrian refugees who are seeking safety in the country”.
Matthew Saltmarsh, senior communications officer for the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, added: “It is important to remember that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are themselves seeking sanctuary from violence in their home country.”
But in Rmeish, the municipality’s Facebook page urges “all citizens to be guards”.
“It is our duty to report any suspicious movement to the authorities,” it says.
Municipality chief Marun Shibli says Rmeish is home to 6,000 Lebanese and that the arrival of more than 1,000 Syrians was “more than we could handle”.
‘FORCED TO CLEAN STREETS’
“A decision was taken to keep only those who could have a local sponsor. Now there are only about 500 refugees left,” he said.
Other municipalities have also come under fire for their treatment of refugees.
In mid-July, municipal police in the coastal town of Amchit, north of Beirut, carried out night-time raids on several homes.
Pictures posted online showed refugees kneeling or lined up facing a wall, their hands crossed behind their backs, as municipal policemen checked their identity documents.
Under pressure from activists, the interior minister wrote to municipality heads warning that law enforcement officers would face “disciplinary measures” if they abused their power.
Amchit municipality dismissed any wrongdoing and said its policemen were acting in line with nationwide security measures aimed at “preventing any terrorism action”.
Other violations of refugee rights have been reported.
In Tartej village north of Beirut, municipal officials forced refugees to “clean up the streets”, As-Safir newspaper reported in mid-July.
And in the predominantly Christian coastal town of Jounieh, also north of the capital, one resident said she witnessed municipal policemen beating up and insulting a Syrian man.
“It was a painful sight,” said Sarah Kamel, who tried in vain to defend the man, a resident of Lebanon for more than 20 years.
She said she shouted at the policemen, who said the man failed to heed a warning to stop.
“The policemen told me ‘When he comes to your house to rob you, you can come to us and defend him,'” she said.