Misrepresented – Reframing Syrian refugees in Lebanon – Script (en)

Elias Fischer, Isabell Kühnel & Jannik Meyenburg

Lebanon. The land of the cedars and white Mountains. A cultural melting pot on the East End of the Mediterranean Sea. Around 4.5 million Lebanese are living in the country that is only as big as the caribbean island Jamaica. More than 80 % of the people accumulate in the urban regions.

For many years, this small country enjoyed international respect for its multiculturalism. But this has also been a trouble spot (see Little 1996, p. 29-30). Lebanon’s religious diversity, in particular, has led to harsh conflicts in its history (see Tarabulsi  2012, p. 108).

When the Syrian Crisis started in 2011, it also had a huge effect on Lebanon. It is estimated, that between 1 and 1.5 million Syrians have fled to the neighboring country (see The Economist 2019).

Asser Khattab, Journalist at Washington Post and Syrian Refugee:

Well, Lebanon has been struggling with so many challenges for decades. Ever since the end of the Civil war there were so many problems related to sectarianism, related to racism, classism in addition to electricity crisis, water crisis, garbage crisis. All of these things have been a thing long before the war in Syria. What happened when Syrian refugees arrived here the Lebanese government had a scapegoat. They have someone they can blame for everything that is going on in this country. Even though the main thing to blame is the system in this country. These classical leaders who have been in control of their parties and of their people.

Lebanese media is widely connected to politicians. A close investigation by the Media Ownership Monitor shows that their parties and families own most media outlets (see Media Ownership Monitor).

Dr. Claudia Kozman, Assistant Professor, Multimedia Journalism, Lebanese American University:

Lebanese media are always projecting frames or representations of Syrian refugees as negative to Lebanese society. And this mainly comes from one of our main politicians in the country, who is a member of the parliament and who is also our minister of foreign affairs. He is very critical of Syrian presence in Lebanon. And he is also extreme in his views of how they are bad in terms of economy.

Dr. Jad Melki, Associate Professor & Chairperson, Media Studies & Multimedia Journalism, Lebanese American University: 

Politicians abuse the refugees and the coverage of the refugees to their own political interest. The Lebanese Free Patriotic Movement and media outlets that support the Future Movement tend to frame Syrian refugees in a way that they are coming and taking the jobs of the Lebanese people. Media, that are more in line with the Hezbollah, for example, or another political group, tends to be a lot more sympathetic with the refugees showing them actually being very weak, helpless, wanting to go back to their country.

Syrian Refugees are highly instrumentalized by Lebanese media and political parties. Their decisions and framing are broadening the gap between refugees and the Lebanese society (see Freedom House 2014 and Cozma, R. & Kozman 2018, p. 198).

Asser Khattab, Journalist at Washington Post and Syrian Refugee: 

Even if you require a residence permit, Syrians are only allowed to work in 3 sectors – as farmers, as cleaners and as construction workers. So even if I had a residence permit I won’t be allowed to work as a journalist, or as a doctor, or as an engineer because this is reserved for the Lebanese or foreigners of another sort.

Dr. Claudia Kozman, Assistant Professor, Multimedia Journalism, Lebanese American University: 

In Lebanon as a Lebanese person, as someone who hears all of this, we tend to always look at Syrian refugees and package them and frame Syrian refugees as those bad people who are doing all of these bad things to the country. I notice this personally when I go to cafés around Beirut. I sit somewhere and I hear a lot of the Syrian accent. Then I look around and there are a bunch of University students doing University work. I think ‘Oh, those look like most people’. But then we look at other people who might actually be Lebanese beggars on the streets and most of the discourse is that those are the Syrian refugees. So, there’s always the negative look on this.

Asser Khattab, Journalist at Washington Post and Syrian Refugee: 

Then they talk to you and say ‘Oh, you could just be Lebanese’, which they may mean as a compliment but, of course, it is very problematic as well. That means that their perception of a Syrian is just a refugee who hasn’t had any opportunity to education, or decent job opportunity.

Dr. Claudia Kozman, Assistant Professor, Multimedia Journalism, Lebanese American University: 

Even if you are using the image of a Syrian refugee in a good way you are still using that person and telling people that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are equal to someone who is poor and begging on the streets – and this is the problem.

The rise of social media has created a public sphere widely used as an information source to counter the orchestrated news spread by politicians and biased media outlets (see Kraidy 2016, p. 22 and Melki & Mallat 2014, p. 6).

Dr. Claudia Kozman, Assistant Professor, Multimedia Journalism, Lebanese American University: 

You can get your opinion heard but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will get anywhere. But, at least for me, social media is positive, because it gives us a tool and a platform to speak. In the past, we did not have that.

Sobhiya Najjar, News Reporter and Anchor at LBC International News: 

We created the hashtag ‘against_hate_speech’ while the demonstrations. I am one of the organizers of this. We are a group of people who are – for example together with the Issam Fares Institute of the American University of Beirut – doing a lot of stories just to calm down the situation and to tell the people that the refugees are victims of this war. So, they are not happy to be here living in a tent, being in an unsafe and poor area. This is my opinion now. But we don’t really have demonstrations that are about peace with refugees.

Asser Khattab, Journalist at Washington Post and Syrian Refugee: 

If you check in general, I think, news against Syrian refugees are spreading much faster than news pro Syrian refugees, even on social media. Most Syrians I speak to appreciate what Lebanon has done to them in the past 8 years. Many say ‘It is not our place, It is not our country. We are guests here. We are not allowed for example to demonstrate or organize strikes. There were some attempts, most of them were run by people who are unknown and many Syrian refugees actually called these campaigns out and say ‘These campaigns do not represent us. We are just going to stay here and mind our business rather than to cause further trouble in this country’.

In the case of Syrian refugees social media movements remain few. Journalists, however, do not seem to be able to give fact-based, objective information, so such initiatives are desperately needed (see Freedom House 2014). Gladly, some media productions are trying to reframe Syrian refugees: For Example, the widely recognized independent short film ‘Maram’ (see IMDB).

Samer Beyhum, TV Studio Technician, Co-Founder of 99% Media Lebanon and Producer of ‘Maram’:

We created a documentary called ‘Maram’ which is about a young Syrian refugee girl who sells flowers on the streets. We created this documentary with the intention of humanizing this young lady instead of dehumanizing her or getting people to pity her, what is what most videos done in this fashion are usually about. Our objective was to understand who this person is, what her aspirations in life are, what are her dreams? You know: What is she like as a human being? This documentary went around the world and was played at about thirty festivals so far.

The short film won several international prices and – more importantly – helped change the Syrian girl’s precarious situation.

In Lebanon, refugees generally remain outsiders, unable to enjoy the full rights of regular citizens in their host country. All too often they have limited opportunities for social and economic development. Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict in Syria leaves little hope for those wishing to return home anytime soon (see Verme et al. 2015, p. 124).



Cozma, R. & Kozman, C., 2018. The Syrian crisis in U.S. and Lebanese newspapers: A cross-national analysis. The International Communication Gazette, 80(2), pp.185–204.

Freedom House (2014) Lebanon. Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom- press/2014/lebanon (accessed 5 September 2019)

IMDB: Maram, unter: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7801316/ (last accessed 07.09.2019).

Freedom House (2014) Lebanon. Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom- press/2014/lebanon (accessed 5 September 2019)

IMDB: Maram, unter: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7801316/ (last accessed 07.09.2019).

Kraidy, M.M., 2016. Trashing the sectarian system? Lebanon’s “You Stink” movement and the making of affective publics. Communication and the Public, 1(1), pp.19–26.

Little, D., 1996. His Finest Hour? Eisenhower, Lebanon, and the 1958 Middle East Crisis. Diplomatic History, 20(1), pp.27–54.

Melki, J., Mallat, S., 2014. Digital activism: Efficacies and burdens of digital and social media for civic activism. Arab Media & Society, 19, accessed 5 September 2019, http://www.arabmediasociety.com/?article=849

Tarabulsi, F., 2012. A history of modern Lebanon 2nd ed., London: Pluto Press.

The Economist: No refuge. Syrians in Lebanon, in: https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A597086800/ITOF?u=fub&sid=ITOF&xid=07df46ab (last accessed 02.09.2019).

Verme, P., Gigliarano, C., Wieser, C., Hedlung, K., Petzoldt, M., Santacroce, M. 2015. The welfare of Syrian refugees. Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon. Washington.

Music Rights:

Ambient One: Composed by Mattia Cupelli and licensed to Jannik Meyenburg.

Traditional Lebanese Music: Creative Commons, license-free.

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