This case study examines the impacts of the Syrian refugee influx on Tripoli, with a focus on urban poverty. By January 2017, Tripoli hosted some 70,000 registered Syrian refugees, representing a 17 percent increase in the city population. Prior to the Syrian refugee influx there were already 30,000 Palestinian refugees living in Tripoli. Many Syrian households have relocated to the Palestinian ‘gatherings’ to take advantage of low rents, prospect of aid from Islamic charities, and smaller Lebanese military presence in these settlements. Half of Tripoli’s residents are considered poor and the unemployment rate exceeds 35 percent; 74 percent of Syrian refugees are living below the poverty line. Competition over jobs has been a key source of social tension between refugees and Lebanese residents in Tripoli. Decreases in wages and household incomes between 2012 and 2015 have been attributed to the willingness of Syrian refugees to work for lower wages and longer hours. Lebanese workers with similar skills have lost their jobs to Syrians, and everyone has suffered from rising commodity prices and rents. Increased demand for housing has placed pressure on the city’s housing stock particularly in heavily populated, low-income neighborhoods. Additionally, the Syrian influx has put pressure on municipal services like garbage collection, and on already precarious basic infrastructure assets, such as power grids, roads, and buildings. Generally, Lebanese residents in Tripoli resent job creation activities that target Syrians, believing that Lebanese are entitled to available jobs and that Syrian refugees should not be prioritized for work and aid. However Syrians are still widely accepted in Tripoli due to shared cultural and religious values.
Syrians face several government regulations that make life much more difficult for them, including: (a) the need to apply for and renew residency permits, which prevents them from moving freely in search of livelihood opportunities or to access services, such as health and education; (b) new employment regulations that restrict Syrian refugees to jobs in the construction, environment (mainly waste management), and agriculture sectors; and (c) lack of coordination amongst public institutions managing refugee affairs. Many Syrian refugees have adopted negative coping strategies such as: (i) relocation to marginalized neighborhoods; (ii) accepting low wages and poor working conditions; and (iii) working in exchange for housing.
The authors warn that urban poverty and the influx of Syrian refugees combine to create a high risk of economic and social collapse in Tripoli. They recommend: (1) support for the sectors in which Syrians are eligible to legally work; (2) technical assistance for municipal actors; and (3) rapid employment initiatives.