13.07.2016 - UNESCO Office in Beirut

Youth and Social cohesion in Lebanon: Reducing stigma towards refugees

© UNESCO Beirut 2016

As part of its efforts to build capacities of local actors participating or leading initiatives to respond to challenges imposed by the influx of refugees in Lebanon, UNESCO Office in Beirut organized a 3-day workshop to explore a national approach in promoting social cohesion by reducing stigma towards refugees in Lebanon.

Held from 11 to 13 July 2016 in UNESCO Office in Beirut, this workshop offered a space for direct interactions among Lebanese and Syrian youth, enhancing their communication, advocacy and conflict resolution skills.

24 young men and women from eight municipalities and a number of civil society organizations and other key stakeholders participated in this training workshop, aiming to enable them to better design and implement innovative proposals for the development of public policies in favour of social inclusion and intercultural dialogue, particularly targeting disadvantaged populations.

The workshop constituted a main platform for experience and success stories sharing among participants; and discussing ways to address negative perceptions rising inside a community as a result of a crisis situation (conflict or influx of refugees). Stories included challenges endured for long by several Lebanese towns to re-establish peace and move beyond the post-civil war social and sectarian tensions. Trust building has been mentioned by most of the participants as a key prerequisite to ensure a smooth social inclusion process. Syrian and Lebanese participants exchanged views about the main obstacles impeding healthy interactions between both communities, namely the lack of a strategy to host Syrians in decent conditions which increases pressure on municipal services and results in increasing tensions between the two communities.

Prejudices and misconceptions around the future of Syrian refugees in Lebanon were also exposed in the form of an open discussion. Some Lebanese participants shared their thoughts about the fear of permanently resettling Syrians in Lebanon. A Syrian young participant expressed his understanding while underpinning the fact that his ultimate wish is to return home once minimum safety standards have been restored. Municipal representatives highlighted the importance of improving the hosting conditions of Syrians and setting up interactive spaces for both communities to come together in order to challenge misconceptions surrounding the uncertainty of Syrians’ future in Lebanon.

“Promoting social inclusion through policy and knowledge has been at the heart of UNESCO’s work at all senses”, stated UNESCO Programme Officer Seiko Sugita in her opening speech. “In our region, like in other parts of the world, we have established a coalition of cities, which committed to fight against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance”, she added, reiterating the need to re-dynamizen of the Arab coalition of Cities. “Good practices can be replicated in other cities. Innovative approaches can be tested through inter-city collaboration and by having young men and women share their skills, creative ideas and positive energy”, said UNESCO Programme Officer.

Abdallah Chalhouf, an activist in the Lebanese Red Cross, praised this workshop considering that “it would help the participants in dealing with negative prejudices and xenophobia, which are today a very sensitive topic that Lebanese and Syrian citizens are encountering in schools, universities, work, and every aspect of their everyday lives in Lebanon”, hoping to be able to put the knowledge gained into practice in Lebanon.

Building on the commitment of 5 Lebanese cities-members of The “Coalition of Arab Cities against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance”, and on cumulative experiences and networks of recent and current inter-cultural dialogue initiatives in Lebanon, the workshop aims to achieve important short and long term goals, including:

  • Reiterate UNESCO’s support in promoting inclusive social transformations especially in urban settings through the regional coalition of cities fighting against discrimination and xenophobia (through agreeing on 10 points of action);
  • Identify and collect experiences, good practices, innovative ideas in promoting social cohesion at cities;
  • Create direct opportunities for Syrian youth refugees and local host population to interact and come together in fostering exchanges and communication across cultural, religious and national boundaries;
  • Collectively reflect on efficient and creative ways to reduce or prevent these tensions through purposive advocacy work and creative activism;
  • Enhance the participants’ communication, advocacy strategizing and conflict resolution skills.

The “Coalition of Arab Cities against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance” launched in Casablanca in 2008, has 19 members from 6 countries – Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco and Qatar- with Casablanca as the lead city, aiming to promote social inclusiveness in urban settings by signing the 10 points for Action plan.

Since its creation however, the Arab Coalition is yet to seize its full potential as a regional platform for collaborative action among members. Five Lebanese cities (Beirut, Byblos, Ras-el Metn, Tripoli and Zahle) are members of the Arab coalition. UNESCO is determined to remobilize the regional coalition by encouraging cooperation among members and new cities to join the coalition.

On the other hand, UNESCO has been involved in many initiatives in promoting social cohesion through skills development of youth in inter-cultural dialogue through sports, cultural heritage, arts, volunteerism, and community services. Such initiatives bring Lebanese and Syrian communities together to work in partnership with youth and civil society organizations in implementing a number of pioneering initiatives, such as The NETMED Youth project, the Saudi-funded HAWER project on Intercultural dialogue, and the youth-information community centres.

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