In Lebanon, Syrian Refugees Met With Harassment And Hostility : Parallels In some Lebanese towns, Syrian refugees now outnumber Lebanese. And harassment against them is picking up — as is political rhetoric against them.
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In Lebanon, Syrian Refugees Met With Harassment And Hostility

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In Lebanon, Syrian Refugees Met With Harassment And Hostility

In Lebanon, Syrian Refugees Met With Harassment And Hostility

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're heading overseas now to Lebanon. It is home to more refugees per capita than any other country in the world. Most of them are Syrians. NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports on how public opinion in Lebanon is now turning against those refugees.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Doha Jassem and her family fled Syria five years ago for a patch of ground in the rural Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. They live in a plastic tent. She's adorned it with a golden cloth, and tassels dangled from the ceiling. She grows flowers by the entrance, but she's afraid. She takes her phone and plays me a sound file that has caused panic among refugees. It's of a man who called for attacks against them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING0

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) In every area, in the street you're on, in your building, gather, gather amongst yourselves. Anyone who sees a Syrian, hit him. Hit him. Break him.

SHERLOCK: Jassem's young daughters eyes well with tears. The recording called for violence against Syrians on specific dates last month. And even though Jassem didn't know who was behind it, she believed the threats.

DOHA JASSEM: (Through interpreter) Syrians started sending this to each other to make sure no Syrian went out that day. None of us even tried to step outside.

SHERLOCK: Part of what fuels this is that Lebanon has so many refugees. The United Nations has registered over a million Syrians, but the actual numbers are higher. In some towns, there are now more Syrians than Lebanese. The country's already feeble infrastructure is overburdened.

MARIA ASSI: Even the places in the health clinics or in the schools, now it's more difficult.

SHERLOCK: Maria Assi is the CEO of Beyond Association. That's an NGO that helps Syrians and Lebanese. She says Lebanese at first welcomed refugees, and many hosted them in their homes, but they just can't cope in the long term.

ASSI: It's not easy for Lebanese community to think that they will stay. No country accept. No people around the world can accept.

SHERLOCK: So the resentment against Syrians has grown. Politicians with an election coming up next year are even calling for refugees to go back to a war zone.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SAMIR GEAGEA: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: In this press conference, Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian political party, says Lebanon must get rid - to use his words - of many refugees. The hostility is now so intense that hundreds of Lebanese poets, writers and scholars have signed a letter of protest. They say this country has a moral obligation to look after its refugees. Back in Jassem's shelter, she says life here has never been easy. And now, they just don't feel safe anywhere. One recent day, she went with her husband and son to buy vegetables, when she says a man attacked them.

JASSEM: (Through interpreter) We were riding my husband's motorcycle, and we had my son, the one who's crying right now with us. This man launched himself at the front of the motorcycle with a sickle.

SHERLOCK: It's not just vigilantes they're afraid of. One day, soldiers raided their tent. They'd come to check permits, and only the women were home. She said they made them and their children wait for hours in the hot sun. Jassem believes this was intended as a reminder - we'll host you whilst your country is at war, but don't think for a second that you're welcome to stay. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "SOURCE")

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