November 4, 2020

Beirut Is a Shambles, and Syrian Refugees Are Willing to Help

International donors are wary—but the country’s most reviled residents are making the difference.

Syrian workers are rebuilding blast-hit areas in Beirut, one window at a time. Often reviled for allegedly burdening the civic infrastructure, stealing jobs, and living off subsidies meant for the Lebanese, Syrian refugees have shown up in Lebanon’s hour of need. They are building windows, repairing doors, painting houses, and replacing glass in high-rise apartment buildings—some of which belong to the same Lebanese who have long rooted for the refugees to leave.

For all their manual labor, they have received only a pittance—payment further devalued by a plummeting Lebanese pound that has lost 80 percent of its value since a year ago. But more bothersome for many is the continued lack of respect. Hardly any of the refugees toiling to resurrect Beirut to its former glory believe their contribution will be remembered.

Almost three months after thousands of tons of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate exploded at Beirut’s port and damaged many districts popular with locals and tourists, much of the city still lies in ruins. The international community has so far only provided minimal emergency aid

The efforts, numerous and well meant, fall far short of what is required to rebuild and revive the city. None has received any help from the government, and most have yet to receive support from international agencies.

As the political elite quarrels over ministries and the international community scrambles to help, Syrian workers are visible on the streets. Syrians, too, died in the catastrophe and left behind desperate families. At least 40 were killed in the blast, hundreds were injured, and eight are still hospitalized. The living conditions of Syrians in Lebanon deteriorated in tandem with their hosts, but since they were already the bottom rung of society, it pinched them harder.

These Syrian refugees are the very same people who have proved to be more reliable for home- and business owners who have, on their own, started to slowly repair their damaged properties.

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