Syrian victims of racist attacks in Lebanon…How to save themselves?

Syrian refugees get ready to return to Syria from the Lebanese border town of Arsal - 28 June 2018 (Reuters)


Enab Baladi – Louay Rhebani

The phenomenon of racist attacks on Syrian refugees in Lebanon has become exacerbated. The Lebanese media and local and international human rights organizations have documented numerous cases in which several Syrian people fell victim to racial discrimination and physical and verbal abuse. In some cases, these attacks reached a stage where even minors were sexually assaulted. 

At the end of last July, the mass rape of a Syrian child was perpetrated in the town of Sohmor in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon.

The investigations revealed that three men had taken turns raping the 13-year-old Syrian boy for nearly two years. 

A video went viral on social media, showing the three youths caught the child who tried to escape several times. They beat him before forcing him to engage in sexual acts with them. 

Lebanon’s streets were buzzing with the incident, which took a turn beyond the state’s borders. The pioneers of social networking sites circulated the tag #Justice_for the Syrian child.

Despite the dimensions the incident took, this phenomenon did not stop. On 25 September, two Syrian girls were subjected to a similar sexual assault in Tyre, southern Lebanon.


Neglect by Lebanese State or Syria refugees?!

Mrs. Amira Sukkar, President of the Union for the Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon, wondered in her speech with Enab Baladi if the victim’s family has informed the police station or the Office of the Public Prosecution about the incident or not and if they have made a visit to forensic medicine center in the region.

Sukkar pointed out that many refugee victims do not use the law to protect themselves because they do not have legal stay documentation (valid residency permits). She also called on the refugees to obtain them not to fall victim to blackmail and extortion from any side. However, she added that the union is ready to help all victims regardless of their legal status in Lebanon.

“We, as the Union for the Protection of Juveniles, immediately take action to support minors, because it is not only about Syrians and other nationalities when a sexual assault or different type of assault takes place,” Sukkar said.

She added, “The law is clear, and at the same distance from all perpetrators and minor victims […]The Lebanese government does not differentiate between Lebanese and other nationalities when it comes to abuse cases.”

Lebanese lawyer Dr. Tariq Shindab confirmed the increase in violent attacks against Syrian refugees in Lebanon “amid a media blackout.”

Shindab explained the root causes for the increasing attacks, in an interview with Enab Baladi, with “the sectarian rhetoric practiced by the Lebanese government, represented by the head of state, Michel Aoun, his former foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, and their allies, as well as Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa.”

He also accused them of using racist discourses against the Syrian people.

The lawyer pointed out that the Lebanese government and “Hezbollah” control most of the local media outlets,” and they cover up the crimes committed against Syrians.

Law… How do we act?

Amira Sukkar, President of the Union for the Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon, recommended that the victims must inform the Public Prosecutor’s Office of any incident that occurs with them. Then, the union intervenes promptly by communicating with the Public Prosecution and sending a social worker to keep up with what happened and support the minor psychologically and investigate the case.”

The victim is then referred to the anti-Human Trafficking and Protection of Morality Office in Beirut for follow-up. ”

Sukkar also pointed out that the family can file a complaint against the abuser by hiring lawyers. The lawyers’ fees can be covered by “the Bar Association.” He indicated that if the victim is not of Lebanese nationality, he can resort to the United Nations, explaining that the “Union for the Protection of Juveniles” does not interfere in cases related to the abusers, but rather regarding minor victims.

Attorney Shindab believes that although there exist laws that protect citizens and refugees in Lebanon, “this law is not enforced in all circumstances.” 

He added, “I do not count on the United Nations or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” referring to the futility of resorting to them.

Regarding the measures to be taken, Shindab highlighted that “An abuse victim must prosecute any criminal. If he is unable to, then he should go to specialized lawyers.” He stressed that resorting to the law is the only way to obtain rights, and the law must protect the victim.

According to the Refugee Protection Law that was ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in 1951, a refugee has the right to safe asylum, medical treatment, freedom of belief, movement from one place to another, and the right to education and employment. Besides, the refugee has the right to protection from refoulement, protection against unlawful expulsion or detention.

Dozens of Syrian refugees went out to protest last September, against the United Nations High Commissioner’s policy for cutting aid to many Syrians, as well as suspending travel permits to Europe.

In previous testimony to Enab Baladi, a protest organizer, Shadi Ali, said, “Today at 8 a.m, we were in a sit-in in front of the UNHCR building in Beirut to demand the rights of refugees, but nobody listened.” 

At the time, he pointed out that UNHCR employees record refugee data and hand over subsidies to those whose names have not been written off, after almost one year of waiting.

The activist added, “Of course, while working behind their desks, they are too snoopy and arrogant to send someone to assess the refugee’s situation in his place of residence [ …] there are some people who have been registered in the UNHCR since 2013, yet, to this day they have not received any assistance.” He asserted that their protest would continue.  

Psychological effects of abuse 

The specialist consultant in treating children’s mental disorders, Dr. Rania Abdul-Rahim, explained to Enab Baladi that childhood sexual abuse’s psychological effects are far worse than the physical effects. Child sexual abuse can cause both short-term and long-term psychological effects. It negatively affects the child’s future life in general and his outlook on himself, self-esteem, self-respect, and confidence in those around him.

Dr. Abdul-Rahim added that sexual assault has a profound impact on the victim’s ability to establish a healthy and active sex life in a marital relationship, attributing the matter to the first sexual experience in which the child fell victim. The first unhealthy experience will have a strong impact on his intimate relationship with his future life partner.

Abdul-Rahim highlights that when a person recalls an incident of physical or sexual abuse, this may lead to “sexual aversion and frigidity, or the establishment of abnormal relationships. The abused person could destroy himself as a kind of self-punishment,” a compulsive act resulting from the first experience he was subjected to.

Sexual assault is defined as unwanted sexual contact and takes many forms, including attacks such as rape or attempted rape, and sexual touching. 

Family’s therapeutic and restorative role

If there is a suspicion that a child is sexually abused, “We must have a quiet conversation with him at an appropriate time and in complete privacy, reassuring the child that he will not be punished, blamed or harmed by anyone, whether by his family or the abuser. We will protect him and understand the situation, said the consultant, Rania Abdul Rahim.

Abdul Rahim explained that if it is confirmed that the child has been sexually abused, he must be immediately examined medically without delay and referred to the specialists in the psychological field to provide appropriate psychological treatment.  She noted that the treatment takes a long time and great effort, “but there will be substantial positive results. ”

Abdul Rahim stressed that it is essential for parents to be involved in their children’s lives and behaviors. They should spark a conversation with their children in order to make them talk about their day and discuss all topics that occur with them. Besides, she referred to the importance of psychological support for the child by expressing love and support.

Abdul Rahim also recommended that parents raise children’s awareness about sexual abuse and reassure their children that they are not ashamed or scared of informing them of any assault or harassment they are exposed to. Parents should not allow their children to stay away from them or make them work or beg in the streets, “which may expose them to violence.”


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