The good practices brief for responses to Syrian refugees
Local Response Opportunities
Preventing Tensions and Improving Quality of Services for
Syrian Refugees and Lebanese Host Communities
1. Good practices to mitigate tensions and conflicts
2. Good practices to strengthen institutional coordination for local response
3. Good practices to improve the quality of basic services
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of
Syrian refugees in Lebanon has reached close to 310,000 individuals as of February 2013. This
includes Syrians who are registered or in the process of being registered with UNHCR. The Syrian
refugees are located all over the Lebanese territory, with a higher concentration in North Lebanon
There are signs of increased tensions between Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities in
different regions due to political and socio-economic
reasons as well as weak response to urgent needs
triggered by the situation. Conflicts between both
communities present an urgent threat to human
security and respect for human rights.
In addition to the institutional challenges facing the Lebanese government, there are multiple
coordination challenges between UNHCR, local and international organizations, and relevant
stakeholders due to the large influx of refugees and sheer volume of needs. Meanwhile, Syrian
refugees are suffering from lack of access to basic services that are necessary for their survival.
An estimated 20 percent of Syrian refugee children are enrolled in school in Lebanon2
. There are
many Syrian refugees who do not have adequate shelters, with several families living in a room orin
Syrian Regional Refugee Response. Information Sharing Portal: Lebanon. (2013). UNHCR. Retrieved from
Robbed of Childhood, Running from War. (2012) World Vision International.
Source: Syrian Regional Refugee Response. Information Sharing Portal: Lebanon. (2013). UNHCR
“The government is not present to protect
us from the Syrian refugees’ violations…
We will protect our honor and our homes.”
Focus group participant from Akkar
In addition to the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs and the High Relief Commission (HRC),
approximately 25 local and international organizations are working with refugees to provide the
child protection services community services
coordination services core relief items
education services food
awareness on gender-based violence health services
awareness on HIV/AIDS information management services
livelihood services nutrition services
protection services shelter services
water and sanitation services registration services
Despite the large number of organizations working with Syrian refugees and their previous
experience in comparable situations, there are still many gaps that need to be addressed urgently in
order to fulfill the needs of refugee populations and of the local communities hosting them.
This document provides recommendations for good practices and activities that can be adopted and
implemented by local and international organizations to better respond to the refugee crisis. It was
designed using a rapid research methodology based on the participation of affected communities,
civil society groups, and practitioners involved in dealing with the refugee situation.
The following steps were undertaken to develop the brief:
1. Review literature on response to refugees, conflict prevention, and civic engagement.
2. Analyze similar country cases, including Lebanon’s experience in handling refugees, and the
role of local communities.
3. Interview 10 activists from local and international organizations that are either currently
working with Syrian refugees or have previously worked with refugees in Lebanon.
4. Conduct 3 focus groups in Saida, Tripoli, and Bekaa with Syrian refugees, civil society
activists, and international agency workers.
Analysis of the research findings shed light on general trends and approaches to the refugee issue,
informed the development of recommendations to overcome the challenges identified by
stakeholders, and helped identify lessons learned and successful approaches used by local and
international organizations in responding to the influx of refugees.
The primary audiences targeted by this brief include:
1. Municipalities and local community-based organizations (CBOs) that are in direct contact
with Syrian refugees.
2. Civil society organizations (CSOs) working with Syrian refugees or in host communities.
3. International organizations working directly with refugees and local populations or supporting
CSOs and CBOs to implement related programs and projects.
This section presents the main recommendations derived from the consultative process described
above for practices and mechanisms that can be adopted by local and international organizations
in three main areas:
1. Good practices to mitigate tensions and conflicts between Syrian refugees and Lebanese
2. Good practices to strengthen institutional coordination for local response
3. Good practices to improve the quality of basic services
Good Practices to Mitigate Tensions and Conflicts
There is an increase in tensions between Syrian refugees and local communities, as expressed by
several stakeholders consulted for this brief and as reported in local media. The nature of these
tensions combines demographic, political, economic, and social reasons:
The high concentration of refugees in certain areas is creating tensions over local resources
in regions with weak infrastructure.
Some communities are facing tensions due to the difference in political affiliations
between Syrian refugees and local citizens.
Poor communities are feeling left out of relief efforts primarily directed at Syrian refugees.
Competition over economic opportunities for skilled laborers is causing tensions, which is
compounded by the scarcity of job opportunities.
Harassment incidents towards women were reported from both the Syrian and Lebanese
communities, causing local conflicts.
Some Syrian students suffer from discriminatory attitudes and behaviors from Lebanese
teachers and students.4
Below are recommendations for approaches and mechanisms designed to mitigate potential
conflicts and tensions between Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities. They are based
on the field research as well as a review of international experiences in countries that have faced
Transfer of vocational skills between Syrians and Lebanese citizens as a means for collaboration
• Problem: Business owners, in an attempt to reduce labor costs, are increasingly hiring Syrian
refugees instead of Lebanese citizens. This is not only affecting the socioeconomic conditions
of Lebanese families, but is also causing competition and tensions between Syrian refugees and
• Opportunity: The Syrian refugees, especially youth and women, have advanced vocational
skills such as those related to sanitary works, electrical works, paving, wood carving, sewing,
embroidery, mobile phone repair, hairdressing and make-up. Creating opportunities to
exchange those skills and including Lebanese and Syrians in the same sessions would enhance
collaboration instead of competition, as well as reduce feelings of alienation in both
• Suggestion: It is recommended to organize vocational training workshops to be delivered to
both Syrians and Lebanese in collaboration with skilled labors from both communities. This
will contribute to transforming their relationship and alleviating tensions between them. It will
also allow people from both communities to acquire a new set of skills that will enhance their
employment prospects. To maximize benefits, such trainings should include job search
assistance and follow-up to secure job placement for participants.
Empower Lebanese citizens with advocacy capacities to participate in solving local problems
pertaining to the influx of Syrian refugees:
• Problem: Local citizens are not playing an active role in advocating to their municipalities to be
more proactive in solving problems triggered by the refugee situation. This is mainly due to
their lack of knowledge and skills about their role as active members in their local
• Opportunity: Several curricula have already been developed to foster citizen engagement with
their municipalities, such as training materials developed by the National Democratic Institute
as part of the Citizen Lebanon project as well as manuals created by Beyond Reform and
Development on “Local Governance and Active Participation” and “Civic Engagement,
Leadership and Democracy.”
• Suggestion: Training workshops should be implemented in rural areas to foster citizen
engagement with their municipalities to design solutions, initiatives and projects to deal with
imminent challenges triggered by the refugee situation. Such workshops will equip citizens
with the knowledge and skills to advocate to municipal authorities for a better response to their
needs and those of the refugees.
Promote cultural diversity and intercultural learning between Syrian refugees and local
• Problem: Syrian refugees are not familiar with cultural particularities and traditions of
Lebanese host communities, and vice versa, which is causing cultural tensions between the two
communities. The social behaviors most frequently cited by stakeholders were hygiene, family
relations and gender roles. In addition, some local community members blame the increase in
crime and robbery rates on Syrian refugees.
• Opportunity: Both Syrian refugees and Lebanese citizens, specifically in the North and Bekaa,
have much in common such as religion, social values, rural characteristics and even some
traditions. Making them aware of the commonalities can enhance mutual respect and exchange
of thoughts and ideas.
• Suggestion: Municipalities and local organizations are encouraged to organize short-term
intercultural learning activities, joint projects and dialogue platforms, allowing both
communities to share and discover commonalities, such as cooking events, traditional dinners,
and family visits. Such eventswill help in transforming their relationships and consequently
mitigating tensions. Starting these activities in the short term is essential to equip both
communities with basic dialogue and acceptance skills they will need in both countries when
the crisis ends.
Raise awareness of Lebanese and Syrian common problems and protection mechanisms:
• Problem: Despite the support of local and international organizations, Syrian refugees and
Lebanese citizens still face many challenges, such as health issues, security threats, poverty,
and violations of children and women’s rights. Both communities are not aware of institutional
and legal mechanisms that are in place to ensure social protection.
• Opportunity: In addition to the suggestions presented in this document to help defuse tensions
between Syrian and local communities, the Syrian refugee crisis presents an opportunity to
raise the issue of the 1951 Refugee Convention not being ratified by the Lebanese government,
and to lobby the parliament to ratify it.
• Suggestion: Local and international organizations are encouraged to conduct awareness and
advocacy campaigns for both Syrian refugees and Lebanese citizens on the 1951 Convention
and its 1967 Protocol in addition to other international frameworks and mechanisms for human
rights protection. Moreover, it is important to equip local NGOs and stakeholders with skills
and contacts to advocate with regional justice courts to use these frameworks to protect Syrian
refugees. Advocacy campaigns should call on parliamentarians to add this issue on their
agenda, especially since elections are scheduled to take place in the spring of 2013. These
campaigns can provide a common and safe platform for both Syrian refugees and Lebanese
citizens to discuss and exchange ideas, thus improving relationships and mitigating tensions.
Enable municipalities to mediate local conflicts between Syrian and Lebanese communities:
• Problem: Mayors and municipal officers are receiving many complaints about rising tensions
and conflicts in their communities, yet are unable to solve these conflicts.
• Opportunity: There are many conflict mitigation and mediation programs that were previously
developed by leading organizations, such as the UNDP Peace Building Project, the Lebanese
Conflict Resolution Network, and the training and consulting firm named “…For
• Suggestion: Capacity-building programs on mediation skills should be conducted to equip
mayors and municipal officers with the tools needed to play an active and positive role in
conflict mitigation in their communities. These programs could include small funding for
municipalities to conduct activities aimed at improving inter-community relationships.
Empower mayors and municipal officers to manage local crises:
• Problem: The influx of Syrian refugees is negatively affecting the socio-economic conditions
of host communities and increasing tensions between Lebanese and Syrians.
• Opportunity: Municipal officers and mayors can play a positive role in dealing with the crisis
and alleviating local socio-economic problems.
• Suggestion: Local and international organizations are encouraged to build the capacities of
mayors and municipal officers so they can assume their roles and responsibilities more
effectively, such as by designing budgets that respond to citizen needs, monitoring rent fees
imposed on refugees, involving citizens in developing local initiatives and programs,
implementing income-generating activities, and revitalizing local economies.
Organize joint activities between Lebanese and Syrian students to increase tolerance in schools:
• Problem: Several common problems are facing Lebanese and Syrian students at the school
level, such as the poor quality of public education, inadequate health and safety standards, and
• Opportunity: In many villages, Lebanese and Syrian students are attending the same schools,
and are being accompanied by local teachers and social workers.
• Suggestion: Activities should be conducted for students and teachers to raise their awareness on
issues of common concern and improve relationships between Lebanese and Syrian students
through joint projects.
Involve Syrian parents in parents’ committees in schools to collaborate in ensuring school
• Problem: Within schools that are attended by Lebanese and Syrian students, Syrian students are
having difficulties integrating and adapting to the school environment, which is causing
conflicts with their peers.
• Opportunity: Parents can play an important role in helping their children accept differences and
adapt to a new environment.
• Suggestion: Schools should make a concerted effort to involve the parents of Syrian students in
the parents’ committees, which will develop communication channels between Syrian and
Lebanese parents so they can discuss common challenges and devise mechanisms to overcome
them. This will also engage them in designing common extracurricular activities that respond to
their children’s needs and facilitate their integration, such as school fairs, kermesses, sports
activities, and field trips.
Provide psycho-social support for Syrian and Lebanese youth:
• Problem: Syrian youth are having difficulty adapting to the local environment, performing at
school, and overcoming the sad memories of the war in their country.
• Opportunity: School teachers and social workers can play a positive role in helping youth
integrate and express themselves freely in a safe, open environment. This will require training
and development for school teachers and social workers to become better equipped to play that
role in their environment.
• Suggestion: Psycho-social support programs and activities should be organized within schools
and in communities through which students will have a safe platform to express themselves and
overcome the fears and psychological pressures they face. This can include self-expression
activities, such as painting and theater classes, as well as youth camps where Syrians and
Lebanese can get to know each other, share experiences, and build trust.
Provide basic services to benefit the Syrian refugees and host communities equally:
• Problem: Most services being provided in response to the refugee crisis are strictly targeting
Syrian refugees even when host communities lack the same basic needs (such as food, water,
health, and livelihoods), which is increasing tensions between Lebanese and Syrian citizens.
• Opportunity: Many projects are being implemented in rural areas that benefit both Lebanese
and Syrian citizens, and promote sustainable development, providing opportunities to scale
them up to other regions and communities.
• Suggestion: In designing programs, local and international organizations—and their funding
agencies—should take into consideration the needs of both Syrian refugees and their host
communities in order to avoid creating discrepancies between them and inadvertently
increasing tensions. Services and initiatives that provide more avenues for positive interactions
between the two communities, such as public spaces, gardens, and sports stadiums, can
contribute to building social cohesion.
Good Practices to Strengthen Institutional Coordination for Local Response
Stakeholder consultations and field research revealed a number of institutional and coordination
challenges that are hindering the quality and efficiency of response to the refugee crisis. Below are
recommendations for approaches and mechanisms designed to promote coordinated action in
responding to the needs of Syrian refugees and their host communities.
Ease and improve efficiency of registration for Syrian refugees:
• Problem: The growing influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is straining the capacity of existing
UNHCR and HRC offices to register refugees and serve them properly when distributing kits
and delivering other relief services. In turn, the delay in registering refugees makes it difficult
to obtain an accurate picture of their needs and of the pressures faced by host communities.
• Opportunity: There are many skilled individuals in the host communities who are willing to
assist UNHCR and HRC in the registration process and other logistical details, either as unpaid
volunteers or in exchange for small stipends.
• Suggestion: The number of UNHCR and HRC offices should be increased all over Lebanon.
This will enhance the quality of response to refugee needs as well as create job or internship
opportunities for host communities.
Improve coordination between organizations working on refugee issues:
• Problem: There is an overlap in many areas of service provision and a shortage of other
services. Moreover, there is no centralized database for all activities and their respective service
providers, which affects the quality of support to refugees.
• Opportunity: There are more than 25 local and international organizations working in the field
with Syrian refugees. They all have their own updated databases and are convinced of the
benefits of having a centralized database and coordination on a day-to-day basis.
• Suggestion: A user-friendly centralized database should be created for key stakeholders to
access, edit, and update it with the latest data pertaining to Syrian refugees. In addition to
serving as a monitoring tool, the database will enable better coordination and decision-making
between all support organizations by providing:
A central location that compiles the existing databases of organizations working with
refugees, allowing for improved efficiency and responsiveness to urgent cases.
Easy access to information on the work of local and international organizations around
the country, including: geographic area, types of services provided, and size of the
Regular reports on demographic changes, needs, and existing responses related to
Establish an observatory to assess needs and early response mechanisms:
• Problem: Despite the large number of services provided to refugees, there are still multiple
needs that are not being covered by local and international organizations. The volatility of the
situation requires systematic monitoring of a set of priorities and improvements in the pace and
quality of response.
• Opportunity: Local and international organizations in Lebanon have extensive experience in
conducting needs assessments, monitoring priorities, and setting early response programs due
to their role in previous similar situations faced by Lebanon.
• Suggestion: UNHCR and local organizations are encouraged to establish a joint multi-agency
observatory that centralizes needs assessments to prevent refugee fatigue and improve the pace
and quality of relief response by continuously updating stakeholders with imminent needs and
priorities. The observatory should use a systematic methodology and provide timely
recommendations that feed into stakeholders’ response initiatives.
Partner with local businesses in providing services to Syrian refugees:
• Problem: Various kits are being distributed to the Syrian refugees, including food, non-food
items, and hygiene kits. Moreover, renovation works are being executed for homes and spaces
used by Syrian refugees. Yet in many cases, host communities are not benefiting from the
supply chain of these services due to the limitations imposed by donors’ procurement
regulations and the better price deals available within larger businesses. Many Lebanese
residents have complained that donor agencies and international NGOs are deploying their
teams to target communities with pre-procured items instead of buying goods from local shops
and hiring local manpower to finish renovation works.
• Opportunity: There are many local businesses in rural areas that can supply aid kits and provide
renovation services, thus benefiting from the economic cycle of the relief efforts.
• Suggestion: Local and international organizations that are providing relief services and
conducting renovation works are encouraged to hire local businesses in the targeted regions
whenever possible. This will create job opportunities for the host communities, improve their
socio-economic conditions, and alleviate tensions that might arise from securing these services
from outside the community.
Enable the Lebanese government to play an efficient and transparent role in coordinating response
• Problem: Coordination between UNHCR and local/international organizations on the one hand,
and between Lebanese government institutions supporting refugees on the other—more
specifically HRC—is not well-structured, which is causing lack of responsiveness, delays in
service delivery, and mismanagement of resources.
• Opportunity: International donors have made funding pledges to support Syrian refugees,
which could help Lebanese government institutions deal with this issue with the least damages
possible on the country.
• Suggestion: The Lebanese government should establish a clear and transparent coordination
mechanism and sign memorandums of understanding with all local and international
organizations supporting Syrian refugees, which will help to clarify the respective roles and
responsibilities of all stakeholders and maximize the use of resources.
Good Practices to Improve the Quality of Basic Services
The increased population density caused by the continuous influx of Syrian refugees, combined
with weak infrastructure and the low quality of public services in the regions, is causing local
social tensions, negative competition, and increased poverty. This is allowing rival sectarian and
political groups to provide alternative services that mask political agendas, contributing to political
and security incidents. In light of this situation, the need to improve the quality of basic services
was underscored during stakeholder consultations and field research. Below are recommendations
for approaches and mechanisms designed to improve services in response to the refugee crisis.
Allow and support the delivery of the Syrian school curriculum:
• Problem: Syrian students are facing difficulties in adapting to the Lebanese curriculum due to
many factors, including differences in the teaching language, crowded classrooms, and cultural
sensitivities between students. This is affecting the quality of education and the performance of
Lebanese and Syrian students, and often leading to increased drop-out rates among Syrian
• Opportunity: Following the crisis, Syrian academics adapted the Syrian curriculum and
successfully piloted it in two schools in the North in the summer of 2012.
• Suggestion: Delivery of the adapted Syrian curriculum should be encouraged and supported by
using Lebanese schools in the afternoon for Syrian students. This will ensure that Lebanese
students’ enrollment is not affected while increasing the enrollment of Syrian students. It will
also lower the number of Syrian students dropping out as well as create job opportunities for
Support the creation of additional temporary and permanent medical clinics and field hospitals in
• Problem: In some areas, Lebanese citizens complain that medical support is exclusively
targeting Syrian refugees while neglecting their needs. Moreover, there is a huge need to
provide additional health services to refugees in rural areas.
• Opportunity: The Lebanese Ministry of Health has established successful permanent clinics in
North Lebanon, specifically in Abou Samra, El Hiche, Tikrit, and Amayer, which can be
replicated in other regions. In addition, some international organizations have set up temporary
clinics that cater to the immediate health needs of refugees and have proven to be scalable.
There are many qualified doctors and nurses among Syrian refugees, in addition to the
Lebanese medical teams, who are willing to invest their time and expertise in the service of
refugees and host communities. Moreover, Syrian doctors are coming from all over the world to
volunteer their time and support the delivery of medical services inside the clinics.
• Suggestion: The Ministry of Health, with support from international organizations, should
establish additional permanent clinics in other regions of Lebanon where refugees are based in
order to cover their needs and those of the host communities. International organizations should
also scale the temporary medical clinics to parallel the escalating health needs triggered by the
continuous influx of refugees. In addition to providing medical support to a wider range of
Syrian and Lebanese individuals, the clinics will create job opportunities for Syrian and
Lebanese doctors and nurses, and consequently contribute to improving their socio-economic
Implement the “Task Shifting Model” to train host communities to provide technical support to
• Problem: Despite the large number of organizations supporting refugees, there is still a gap
between the support provided and the current needs.
• Opportunity: The large number of unemployed educated individuals among the host
communities who are willing to support local and international organizations can be leveraged
to enhance assistance to the refugees.
• Suggestion: The “Task Shifting Model” is a successful practice adopted by various
organizations, notably the International Medical Corps (IMC) in Lebanon and Liberia, whereby
citizens from the host communities are trained to deliver psycho-social support to refugees. In
addition to building the capacities of the host communities and creating job opportunities, this
contributes to filling the gaps in the psycho-social field by empowering localities to take
responsibility for solving local problems and decreasing the cost of procuring services from
outside the community.
Empower Lebanese and Syrian youth organizations to participate in alleviating social and
economic problems at the community level:
• Problem: More services and support are targeting Syrian children and mothers. The specific
needs of Syrian youth are not being addressed adequately in the current services provided.
• Opportunity: Youth are the future generations in Syria and Lebanon. Building their capacities
and empowering them will contribute to ensuring their integration in their countries’ post-crisis
• Suggestion: Local and international organizations are encouraged to design and implement
capacity building programs targeting both Lebanese and Syrian youth. The programs will allow
youth to gain interpersonal, leadership and critical thinking skills, develop social awareness,
and learn how to transform differences into opportunities for improved partnerships between
communities. Other technical skills that can be beneficial to Syrian and Lebanese youth
organizations include needs assessment, fundraising, proposal writing, program development
Promote an entrepreneurship mindset and skills within host communities and Syrian refugee
• Problem: The crisis has equally affected the socio-economic conditions of Lebanese
communities and Syrian refugees. Both lack capacities and skills to create local economic
opportunities that can help improve their economic conditions.
• Opportunity: With the proper support, Lebanese citizens can create small businesses in regions
and provide job opportunities for both Syrian and Lebanese communities. Although Syrians
cannot start up their own businesses in Lebanon due to legal constraints, they can be equipped
to do so when they return to their hometowns. Solid curriculums on entrepreneurship and social
entrepreneurship have been developed by leading organizations, which can be easily adapted to
the local context of communities, be they Syrian or Lebanese.
• Suggestion: Local and international organizations are encouraged to build the entrepreneurial
skills of Lebanese and Syrians to help them generate income, create job opportunities, and
develop business initiatives. These programs should target women, youth, and other vulnerable
groups to help them focus on development solutions and self-empowerment.
The above good practices reflect the outcomes of research and consultations with local, national and
international stakeholders on ways to improve response efforts to the Syrian refugee crisis. The
following conditions summarize key factors for enhancing the quality and efficiency of those efforts:
Take into consideration the needs of Lebanese host communities when planning and
responding to Syrian refugees’ needs.
Make use of available human resources, from both the Syrian and Lebanese communities, to
minimize response costs and provide employment opportunities.
Involve host communities in planning and implementation to help them take responsibility in
dealing with the refugee crisis.
Incorporating these key factors into response programs will help defuse tensions and foster social
cohesion within communities suffering from a myriad of social, economic and political pressures.
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