By Magda Abu-Fadil
If there is one country where migration is a meaningful crisis story it is Lebanon which, according to Forbes-Statista/UNHCR, has the most refugees per 1,000 inhabitants – 257 in mid-2014. Lebanon’s population is estimated at 4.5 million. Syrian refugees are estimated at anywhere from 1.3 to 1.5 million, with unregistered numbers approaching 2 million, according to some studies.
But the very definition of a refugee, an asylum seeker or a migrant, takes on more than the usual connotations in a country burdened by a history of sectarianism, political and economic uncertainty, feudal patronage and more.
The Bloomberg View offers a perspective on who is a refugee, according to the 1951 UN convention and a 1967 protocol, as well as the principle that countries can’t send refugees away once they arrive, also known as nonrefoulement.
However, Lebanon is not a signatory to the convention, so its situation is both murky and untenable – more so when media are covering a crisis well beyond the country’s capacity.
Dr. Guita Hourani, Director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Center and Assistant Professor at Notre Dame University’s Faculty of Law and Political Science wrote in an email interview on August 5, 2015: “As told by the media in Lebanon, various pressures shape the ‘migration’ story, including highlighting the calamity of displacement and its humanitarian consequences, especially at the onset of the crisis.
“However, as settlement occurred and years passed without any prospect of return, resettlement in a third country and inflow of assistance to the host community and country, the story began to recount the impact of the crisis in economic, social, and demographic terms.
“The latter was also emphasised as the ‘takfiris’ (Islamic fundamentalists who denounce the ‘others’ as apostates) began to infiltrate vulnerable refugee communities. The story changed too to reflect the economic recession and increased inflation – due in part to the protracted Syrian crisis, the involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting in Syria, and the lack of consensus on electing a president for Lebanon, among other issues.”
This article is taken from the Ethical Journalism Network's report 'Moving Stories - International Review of How Media Cover Migration'
Read the press release here: Migration: Global Report on Journalism's Biggest Test in 2015
Read the full report here: Moving Stories - International Review of How Media Cover Migration
About the author
Magda Abu-Fadil is Media Unlimited director and consultant veteran foreign correspondent/editor who worked with Agence France-Presse, United PressInternational, Asharq Al-Awsat, Al Riyadh, Defense News, Events and The Middle East. She founded the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut. She blogs for the Huffington Post.
Listen to Magda Abu-Fadil debate migration in Lebanon and the report in this podcast by the Arab and Media Society.
Read the other sections of the report here