This article is driven by an interest to explore the role of local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that deal with Syrian refugees in Lebanon seeing the void left by the Lebanese weak state to cope with this situation. It will have a look at how the Syrian conflict has affected the civil society landscape in Lebanon and how the inflow of international aid has affected the work of local CSOs, as well as, their relationship with Lebanese state authorities on the national and local levels. To this extent, the ways in which the management of Syrian refugees by local CSOs has been affected by external factors, including the Lebanese government policies and the role of international organizations (EU, UN) in managing the crisis in Lebanon will be examined. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict and the massive influx of refugees into Lebanon, the civil society sector in Lebanon has undergone significant transformations. To cope with the overwhelming number of Syrians living in Lebanon, Lebanese civil society has expanded with the creation of new CSOs as well as the introduction of additional programs and projects to existing CSOs to assist refugees. These civil society organizations fill a void created by the Lebanese government in its unwillingness or inability to assist with the refugee response in the areas of healthcare, education and vocational training.
Keywords: Syrian refugees, NGO networks, Lebanon, weak state.
In 2018, the Syrian conflict entered its eighth year, continuing to trigger unprecedented humanitarian, demographic and geographical problems with far reaching consequences for Syria and its neighbouring countries. With 6.5 million internally displaced persons and 3 million Syrian refugees who have fled the country since 2011, Syrians have become the largest refugee community in the Middle East. Over the course of the conflict, Lebanon, which has a population of approximately 4 million, has received a huge number of Syrian refugees. Lebanon has neither been able to mitigate nor to respond to this high-impact and vigorous mass influx of Syrian refugees. Currently, there are about 997.905 registered Syrians in Lebanon. The official number has decreased from about one half million since December 2015, due to the tightening of the Lebanese government’s control of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon. However, unofficial numbers would not have changed much, as there would be numerous refugees without residency papers or without being registered with UNHCR. Despite the fact that prior to the Syrian refugee crisis, Lebanon had received a large number of refugees from Palestine in 1948, Lebanese state authorities have failed to implement a coherent national strategy for the management of the Syrian refugee crisis. Considering the highly elevated needs in combination with a persistent underfunding, as well as, the absence of sustainability in the various sectors, such as electricity, health care, education, waste management or water. Though the Lebanese government participated actively under the umbrella of the United Nations in elaborating a “Lebanon Crisis Response Plan” to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, voices within the Lebanese political elite remain reluctant to allow Syrians to integrate properly into Lebanon’s socio-economic life. This is related to a deep fear within the Lebanese society that Syrians might stay in the country on a long-term basis. The attitude of the Lebanese state towards the Syrian problem is characterized by feelings of compassion and fear of importing the Syrian war to Lebanon with long-term effects on the Lebanese state system. In this tensed political and socio-economic context, especially local communities in cooperation with NGOs took over the management of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon.
With the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon the country has witnessed an important inflow of foreign aid, causing a rapid diversification of local non-governmental actors. This multiplication of local actors happened often with the support of international donations, most of all by the European Union and the United Nations, which is sometimes negatively perceived as a process of externalization of the refugee problem. In the absence of functioning state institutions confessional actors and non-confessional organizations are usually identified as the main providers of public services in the country. In the run of the Syrian crisis, non-governmental actors emerged newly or experienced an unprecedented outreach to cope with the situation of refugees in Lebanon, representing an additional burden for the country’s infrastructure and social system. Lebanon was already highly affected due to the Lebanese civil war between 1975-1990. Civil Society Organization networks are here understood as horizontal and effective tools of solving problems evading the states, working to reinfoster existing institutions and social systems. Among these non-governmental actors are confessional and non-confessional organizations, that repeatedly played an important role in the reconstruction of Lebanon following the Lebanese civil war 1975-90 (with the set-up of the local NGO forum), the 2006 July war between Israel and the Hezbollah and lastly the Syrian refugee crisis. This article aims to examine the political and social effects of local non-governmental organizations in the case of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon by analyzing their relationship with international organizations, the Lebanese weak state.
Contextualizing the Lebanese state’s response to the Syrian refugee issue
Lebanese-Syrian relations are a significant factor when considering the current situation of refugees in Lebanon. While Lebanon and Syria have strong religious and community ties, there also exists a decade-long political division between the two countries that has impacted the response of the Lebanese government towards the refugees. Meanwhile, in the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Lebanese government has practiced a policy of open borders due to a number of bilateral agreements that were signed in 1991 by both governments first of all to assure the free circulation of labour, even though it was not prepared to host the large influx of Syrian refugees. However, in conjunction with the lasting effects of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) the Syrian crisis has contributed to intensify the deterioration of Lebanon’s infrastructure and inadequacies of the education, sanitation, security and electricity services. Lebanese authorities to appease these effects on Lebanon’s infrastructure and state system started to limit Syrian’s access to the country with stricter residency and employment restrictions. Lebanese society is polarized between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, which is partly a result of the role that Syria and the army played during the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990 and also during the Syrian occupation from 1976 to 2005. These divisions were further exacerbated with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005, supposedly by Syrian agents. The inability of the Lebanese state to elect a president between May 2014 and November 2016 has paralyzed many state institutions that are in charge of social services and refugee management, leaving many refugees without any protection of the state. Moreover, Lebanese state authorities describe the country as “transit” country and not a country of permanent asylum. There is no legal framework in Lebanon that guarantees the basic rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. Although it hosts a considerable number of Palestinian, Iraqi, and now Syrian refugees, Lebanon is not a state party to the 1951 Geneva Convention or its additional protocol of 1967. Thus, Lebanese law does not recognize the United Nations definition of “refugee”, and instead, prefers the term “displaced” person.
In addition, the “power sharing” system of the Lebanese government has led to a distinct division between different sectors of Lebanese civil society, and many NGOs and community organizations are affiliated with a specific political party or religion. These affiliations have made the formation of a unified response towards the refugee crisis difficult.
The Lebanese Crisis Response Plan
In December 2014, the Lebanese government and the United Nations published the first “Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) for the period 2015 and 2016.” This document was prepared jointly Lebanon Crisis by UNHCR and government ministries, in collaboration with UN agencies, national and international NGO partners. It defines the Lebanese strategy and priorities in the sectors of basic assistance, education, food security, health, livelihood, protection, shelter, social stability, water & sanitation. The LCRP requested a funding of US$ 2.14 billion to respond to the needs of refugees and the Lebanese hosting society. As designed by the Lebanese Prime Minister, the implementation of the LCRP ought to be supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) and the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, in collaboration with Crisis Cell ministries and the UN agencies for refugees and stabilization (UNHCR and UNDP).
Despite the Lebanese government strong stance that Syrians should eventually return to Syria, the Lebanese government in accordance of the aims and interests of the international community started to provide a more coherent response to the Syrian refugee crisis, especially in those sectors, that are prioritized by the international donor community, such as healthcare, education and vocational training. The current response of the Lebanese government to the situation of refugees is reflected in the LCRP (Lebanese Crisis Response Plan 2017-2020). After the election of a new president in November 2016 and following the establishment of a new government, in December 2016 the Ministry for Refugee Affairs was created with Mr. Moureen el Meherbi as the head of this new institution. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) is the actual coordinating body between the Lebanese government, international organizations and local and international civil society organizations in the framework of the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan.
Also the Ministry of Education in Lebanon assumed a much more important role in responding to the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon with the introduction of different programs (Preparatory Early childhood education (Prep-ECE), Accelerated Learning Program (ALP); BLN Programs (Basic Literacy and Numeracy); or the Community based program – (ECE)) with overall aim to allow as much Syrian (and Lebanese) children to go to school within the framework of the above mentioned education policy RACE I, II and III: “Reach all Children with Education”. Moreover, the Ministry of Education gives textbooks to those CSOs who passed the Expression of Interest test that was introduced in 2016 to implement the ECE program at the community level, and that is after completing the needed trainings. Thereby, exercising much more of a control over the activities of local civil society organizations.
A persisting challenge in addition to reaching all Syrian children with a school education is the control and supervision of programs out of the Ministry’s oversight, such as those provided by Syrian schools in more remote areas in Lebanon, such as in the Beqaa valley. Most of these schools provide educational programs that are surpassingly adapted to the Syrian curriculum. Though which have attracted much suspicion of Lebanese authorities, because children going to these school risk to not receiving an officially recognized certificate allowing them to pursue their education or professional career afterwards.
However, the LCRP was also much criticized, most of all by actors of the Lebanese local civil society for not being a comprehensive “national strategy “. Especially, on an institutional level, the response of the Lebanese government to the Syrian situation would be weak. For example, there is no multi-ministerial committee, acting under the direct supervision of the prime minister’s office to coordinate and follow up the implementation of the LCRP. While Lebanon has developed ministerial strategies, these strategies would not align with a national unified vision and donor driven national strategy. Furthermore, it would be unclear whether existing strategies were developed with non-governmental local stakeholders. Donor agencies and Lebanese aid-recipient public institutions would have adopted different, inconsistent methods of reporting aid flows, which would limit the collection of raw data and hamper efforts to determine the aggregated sum of aid flows to the public sector. One fundamental problem in Lebanon would be that a national budget, estimating anticipated government revenues and expenditures for the financial year, has not been passed since 2005 due to political deadlock. The absence of such a national strategy that would prioritize a national vision and interests of the influx of Syrian refugees as well as the lack of involvement of a governmental entity in the management led, consequently, to the domination of several UN agencies (e.g. UNHCR, UNDP, OCHA) and international NGO’s (INGOs) as primary channels of total humanitarian funding. They play an intermediary role between donors and beneficiaries, sometimes through local implementing actors. They cover all regions and various sectors, including food, shelter, education, health, water and sanitation, among others. However, engagement of high numbers of international actors requires an efficient coordination mechanism with an inter-agency information sharing system. Which was established by UNHCR, but not the Lebanese government.
Also, the executive director of the organization SHEILD, for example, criticized the LCRP for not being a tangible strategy to cope with the refugee situation in Lebanon and says: “these are just words. The LCRP is not a priority for us as to fulfil its content, Lebanon would need an additional $1.4 billion and yet only a little amount is covered.” Indeed, the UNHCR funding update shows that there is still a long way to go to fully respond to the overall Syrian crisis in terms of the funding provided; in 2018 only 9% of the overall needed funding was available and there remains a 96% funding gap in order to ensure the ability of partners to fully implement their activities. The 2018 Lebanon Crisis Response has secured US$ 251.3 million between January and March of this year, against an appeal of US$ 2.68 billion (9.4 percent). Moreover, this crisis response plan contains many contradictions and does not provide a clear vision of the refugee problem in Lebanon nor a precise strategy how to deal with the situation in the long run. It would be much too theoretical, but what Lebanon would need are practical initiatives.
Source: UNHCR, 2018
While the focus of CSOs in the framework of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan during the first few years of the crisis was on the rapid delivery and immediate impact of humanitarian aid, in 2016 a shift in the priorities of the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan occurred from humanitarian aid to livelihood and employment projects to allow Syrian refugees to learn a certain occupation, or to run their own business’. In this regard, CSOs started to play an important role in helping Syrian refugees to obtain job trainings and vocational skills. However, these initiatives are often confronted to the government’s restrictive employment policy allowing refugees to work only in limited sectors: construction, agriculture and cleaning, worried about that Syrians will permanently stay in Lebanon, if they acquire economic stability. To obtain the authorization of the Lebanese government for these job training programs, CSOs and international donors argue, that job training programs for refugees remain within the framework of internships without allowing refugees to enter the Lebanese job market once they have completed their training.
However, as the number of refugees is not declining and funds have been reduced, according to the executive director of SHEILD, a long-term plan should be designed: “a transition phase is needed from humanitarian aid to development aid. No one is thinking of projects with long-term effects.” Job and business trainings are offered, but simultaneously you need also to prepare the Lebanese job market for this new labour force by creating new demands, which would need at least 2-3 years.” In this tensed political atmosphere, local CSO’s started to play an important role in coping with the Syrian refugee situation in Lebanon.
The Nature of Lebanon’s Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s)
In this article, civil society is referred to as those activists, movements and organizations, business men and even politicians working to promote intra-sectarian cooperation, civic participation, and inclusion in the governance and political order in Lebanon. We will use rather the commonly referred term of Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) than of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). The fundamental difference between both terms is that CSO’s are defined as organized civil society and can have the forms of informal and some as formal entities such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), among many others. This when a group of individuals come together for a common purpose, as in to fulfil a particular mandate driven by need. CSO’s have a constituency, as they have a clientele/beneficiaries whom they serve and ideally should represent that clientele. Lebanese CSO’s belong to Lebanon’s civil society, while defining themselves as “non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group” which are organized on a local level, national or international level. This definition includes only a subset of a broader civil society sphere that incorporates partisan organizations, faith-based organizations, unions and others. It was selected as a definition to be used when sampling CSO’s for this research.
Lebanon’s important and vibrant civil society landscape dates back to the Ottoman empire and the law of 1909. After the Lebanese, civil war (1975-1990), local actors assumed a key role in the reconstruction of the country and the rehabilitation of the society (especially regarding the resettlement of internally displaced war refugees), especially with the set-up of the Local NGO Forum that persisted until these days. The concept of civil society is well-suited to the Lebanese context for two interrelated reasons. Firstly, the concept of civil society focuses on reconstructing of societies that have been through major crises and wars. The second consideration is the strength of “civil” constituencies in Lebanon. This was especially the case during the war, when different non-governmental groups took charge of public services, including healthcare and education. The beginning of a strong civil society during the war was symptomatic of the inability of Lebanese authorities to provide social and economic services and to regulate the workings of social, cultural, and economic institutions. As Harik points it out: “In Lebanon … civil society is stronger than the government”. Until today a great number of local civil society organizations have a contractual relationship with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Education or Health to assure public services to vulnerable Lebanese citizens that cannot afford the good quality of the highly privatized education and healthcare system. These programs were expanded to Syrians, but not through the Lebanese government but mostly via contracts between international organizations (e.g. UNESCO, World Health Organization) and local civil society actors. Only a few other in the Lebanese civil society landscape re-known CSOs, like Le Mouvement Social Libanais, Amel or Arc en Ciel actually succeeded progressively to develop from service organizations to advocacy and lobbying groups impacting governmental policy-making and national legislations. However, the Lebanese power-sharing system has led to distinct division between different sectors of the Lebanese civil society, as many NGO’s and community organizations are affiliated with a specific political party or religion. These affiliations have made a unified response towards the Syrian refugee crisis incredibly difficult.
The Lebanese Civil Society and the Influx of Syrian Refugees
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict and the influx of more than a million of refugees into Lebanon, the civil society sector in Lebanon has undergone significant transformations. In order to cope with the important number of Syrians living in Lebanon, Lebanese civil society has expanded with the creation of new CSOs as well as the introduction of additional programs and projects to assist the refugees. These civil society organizations fill a void created by the Lebanese government in their unwillingness or inability to support the refugees due to different political and economic reasons. Compared to other conflict zones and host countries in the Middle East, Lebanon has a very strong civil society tradition, and with respect to the political struggle in Lebanon and the lack of a strong centralized state, civil society actors in Lebanon have historically assumed an important role in filling the gaps and shortages created by the public sector in Lebanon, especially regarding education, health care services, and vocational training, but also with regard to development projects and the reconstruction of the Lebanese state in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90) and the recurrent clashes in South Lebanon between Israel and the Hezbollah (1993, 1996, 2006). Which allowed these local actors to gain an important experience in the provision of humanitarian assistance and assuring social cohesion in a very hybrid society. In the context of the Syrian crisis, long transitional phases from one government to another and the absence of political will to manage the crisis left a void, within which international agencies, their local partners and social networks have been operating constantly and relatively freely, managing the refugees’ presence. Seeing the political and economic problems and the failure of the Lebanese government to create an effective and comprehensive humanitarian response system to the Syrian refugee problem, Lebanese CSO’s have supported the Lebanese in absorbing the effects of the Syrian influx on the Lebanese state system and strengthen its resilience.
Not only has there been a significant increase in the amount of programs offered to Syrian refugees, but existing CSOs have begun to offer programs catered to the Syrians’ needs, new NGOs have been formed, and local CSOs have established partnerships and public forums in order to better coordinate their efforts. Lebanon had always had hundreds, and recently thousands of associations dedicated to working on issues of governance, development and democratization. In 2007, the number of associations registered, according to the Law of Associations, was 5,623 (from this figure are excluded political parties, clubs, scouts and family ties). Today, the number is even estimated of about 8000 organizations. According to recent studies, there are 1,3 associations per 1,000 inhabitants in Lebanon. Official records issued by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities suggest that, as of March 2013 there were 8,311 registered non-governmental organizations. The political scientist Traboulsi (2017, p.3) speaks of a “professionalization of social contention movements” in Lebanon. Though according to the researcher, this process, should not be mistakably understood as “genuine political reform movement”. Indeed, despite this dynamism accurate and reliable information on the nature of these organizations, their functions, membership, scope of work, and overall influence over governance and policy-making would be highly limited. Access to, and understanding of this information is necessary for any actor wishing to promote and support civil society in Lebanon. There are hundreds of civil society organizations operating on the ground to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, most of which cooperate with the relevant UN agencies. Meanwhile in the beginning of the crisis, amongst the approximately 100 actors involved in assessing needs and identifying response mechanisms for Syrian refugees, only 16 have been national Lebanese CSOs, today this number has tripled if not quadrupled only by looking at the number of partners of new the LCRP 2017-2020 one can observe the great impact the Syrian refugee crisis had on the civil society sector in Lebanon.
The international community’s willingness to boost Lebanon’s “Resiliency”
The European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) as well its specialized agencies (UNDP, UNESCO, UNHCR, URWA, OCHA, ESCWA) have traditionally helped to support the development of Lebanon’s civil society organizations in multiple sectors, such as child protection, women rights, electoral reform, infrastructure, development aid, humanitarian assistance, and recently refugee protection. The relationship between CSO’s with offices and agencies of the United Nations system or the European Union differs depending on their goals, their values and the mandate of the particular institution. The European Union is Lebanon first trade partner and financial contributor. In February 2016 at the occasion of the London Conference, the EU decided to allocate 639 million Euros to Lebanon in form of assistance to refugees and vulnerable communities for the period 2016-17 in addition to the 219 million that were allocated in form of bilateral cooperation under the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (total of 839 million Euros, EU Commission, 2016). Germany is one of Europe’s first donor countries in Lebanon with more than 90 million US dollars for the World Food Program, US$ 50 million for the 3RP (Syria Refugee & Resilience Plan) and more than US$ 100 million since 2014 for the education programme RACE – Reaching all Children with Education. Meanwhile funding is generally lacking to cover the effects of the Syrian refugee crisis on Syria’s neighbourhood countries, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, it is an important factor of the development and transformation of the civil society sector in Lebanon.
On the one hand, aid allocation to Lebanon run unprecedented high allowing to the most important civil society organizations to multiply their staffs, programs and services.  With more than 1 billion US dollars, Lebanon has received 10% of the world’s international humanitarian aid contributions in 2017. During the recent Cedar (CEDRE -Conference for international donors and investors to support Lebanon’s economy) Conference in Paris in April 2018, Lebanon received in total 11 billion including 4 billion in World bank loans, 1,1 billion Euros (1,35 billion$) in loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the renewal of a previously pledged 1 billion$ credit line from Saudi Arabia in order to modernize the Lebanese economy, renovate its infrastructure and private sector. The follow-up Brussels II conference at the end of April 2018 pledged an additional 1,6 billion$ to support Syria and the resiliency of its neighborhood countries. Lebanon committed to ensure that all eligible refugees can renew their residency free of charge, to promise to expand the fee waiver to all refugees and to pre-process more applications. Moreover, Lebanon and the international community recommitted in Brussels to the Reaching All Children’s Program entitled RACE 2 aiming to enrol 250,000 children in school by 2021 out of an estimated 630,000 school age children. Moreover, Lebanon committed to the “safe, dignified and non-coercive return” of refugees in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement and to uphold the “rule of law”.
On the other hand, the EU and the UN have been also much criticized by voices of the Lebanese civil society for shifting away national state responsibilities with regards to the management of the refugee crisis in Lebanon. According to the Lebanese civil society specialist, Ziad Abdel Samad, “country ownership” would be one of the most important principles of the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness. The state should play an active role in coordinating between diverse actors. It should also adopt a multi-dimensional, multi-sectoral and long term national strategy, taking into consideration the challenges and opportunities for responding to a humanitarian crisis. Such a strategy ought to define and clarify the roles of all actors. Accordingly, partnerships established between these different actors should not be selective, as which commonly occurs between one or more ministries and one or more international organizations) but rather comprehensive, enabling, inclusive and participatory in process. In turn, the Lebanese government should abide to the normative standards by respecting four main rights of refugees as minimum requirements for decent conditions: legal status, livelihood, access to health, and education. These four minimum requirements should become mainstream for the protection of vulnerable groups including women, children, youth and people with disability. Indeed, UNHCR was historically criticized for being a surrogate state that alleviates the Lebanese government and other Arab states from their responsibilities to protect refugees. Which explains partly, also why Lebanon has not signed the Geneva Convention of 1951 although it participated in drafting the document. Moreover, there is a commonly expressed interest and willingness of the UN and its specialized agencies to work more closely together with local NGO’s and other actors of the Lebanese civil society to overcome political divides and to assure the quality of projects.
The Effects of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on the Civil Society Sector in Lebanon
As a result, of the Lebanese state’s inability to provide a direct and quick response to the Syrian refugee influx and international organizations selectivity in supporting local actors, local civil society actors in Lebanon started to organize themselves in conjunction with these international actors, but also independently with different effects on the CSO landscape in Lebanon. Even though, now the response of the government seems much more coordinated, there are three major tendencies among the Lebanese local civil society: the formation of new partnerships between local actors, the emergence of new organizations and the growth or outreaching of existing ones on the national and international levels.
Partnering & Inter-religious Help Initiatives
Mainly to obtain funds local CSOs in Lebanon have tended to form new partnerships or consortiums with each other and foreign CSOs. For example, the Sunni organization Makhzoumi and the “non-religious” and “non-political” organization ALMEE (Lebanese Association for Energy Saving and For Environment) have partnered together to foster civil society action regarding sustainable development by raising public awareness, empowering peoples’ capacities and skills, and enhancing energy efficiency solutions in different communities in the Bekaa area.
Moreover, the program director of the organization Himaya, created in 2009 and which is engaged with the protection of children rights, underlined also the importance of case referring. Meaning that if an organization is confronted with a case it has no expertise in or does not have the adequate equipment, it refers a refugee to another local organization, which has more experience in this specific area, such as psychological support for children. This willingness to cooperate with another CSO implies more trust between CSOs.
Another aspect of this new interactions are cross-religious and intra-religious help initiatives. Meanwhile, several help organizations are Sunni affiliated, such as Dar el Fatwa, Makhzoumi or the Hariri Foundation, one can also observe cross-religious help structures, such as Christian organizations, like the Middle East Council of Christian Churches, Caritas or the Shia organizations, like the Musa As-Sadr Foundation or Al Marrabat that are closer to a more “secular” conception of humanitarianism and aimed at alleviating and comforting human suffering.” Despite the fact that these Shia organizations have also a political goal to pursue, which is the combat against Israel and the Zionist movement, in the view of these organizations, the most important motivation behind human life is identified with the “moral commitment of doing good”. Accordingly, “doing good” would be equated with the idea of guiding individuals. Local humanitarianism provided by organizations, such as al-Marrabat or As-Sadr, would be close to charity. In the perspective of the As-Sadr foundation, humanitarianism should trigger empowerment by making continuous efforts and equalising Lebanese society. The way Shia organizations started to promote social activities and humanitarian aid in the context of the July War 2006 and its aftermath is supposed to contrast with the “generalized emergency driven logic of the international aid industry”. In Lebanon, Christian organizations help Muslims and Shia based or Sunni based organizations help Sunnis, Shias or Christians putting into question Lebanon’s sectarian state system that is otherwise dominating all aspects of Lebanon’s political and cultural life. However, this is an aspect that deserves to be analysed more closely in the scientific literature on Lebanon’s civil society sector.
Increased National and International Outreach of Local CSO’s
Another observation is that, existing Lebanese CSOs, such as Al Majmoua, Makhzoumi, AMEL or SHEILD as well as the newly emerged CSOs have grown significantly since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. Especially with regards to job training, health care and education services, local CSOs play a crucial role in integrating the Syrian refugee community.
The organization AMEL was created by Dr. Kamel Mohanna after the first Israeli invasion in 1979. Today, AMEL focuses on raising awareness for equality and social justice, and has expanded its operations all over Lebanon, especially in areas that have been neglected by the Lebanese central state. The Arabic expression Amel means “the worker”, who is initiating change. The organization claims to be totally apolitical and non-confessional. With regard to the Syrian refugees AMEL provides emergency help, most of all mobile health care clinics in southern Lebanon, educational awareness sessions and handcraft professions for Syrian women for producing soap, jewellery and food products. Recently, AMEL has started an outreach program by opening a number of offices in different European countries, and in the United States. Moreover, in 2016 the organization was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. AMEL is one of the most important local NGO in Lebanon that has established good relations with international organizations, despite its critical attitude towards the involvement of foreign actors in Lebanon. In 2017, AMEL was nominated as observer organization at the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Moreover, AMEL is a founding member of the local NGO forum during the Lebanese war to deal with issues of internal displacement and reconstruction and to strengthen cooperation between local CSOs.
Other examples are the CSOs as “SHEILD” or “LOST” both organizations are most of all active in southern Lebanon. SHEILD was created by a group of humanitarian workers in southern Lebanon in the aftermath of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Speaking about SHEILD’s relationship with the refugee crisis, the executive director stated, “the Syrian refugee crisis is one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes in the history though paradoxically it helped us as a humanitarian organization to develop important skills in order to assure help to people in need”. Within only a few years after its founding, SHEILD has acquired the necessary knowledge to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe, so that today, SHEILD has been able to apply the same knowledge and experience to other regions outside Lebanon in order to help victims of war. Interestingly, when asking the director of the organization whether he would advocate for that the Lebanese should sign the Geneva Convention of 1951, he argued that as a “humanitarian he would support the signatory of the 1951 Convention, but as a “Lebanese” he would have his reserves seeing the impact the crisis had on Lebanon’s already highly affected infrastructure. Another important organization that was created in 1998, is the organization LOST (Lebanese Organization for Studies and Training). Initially the organization was created to cope with the situation of underdevelopment in region of Baalbek-Hermel. Today, it turned into one of the most important partner organizations of the Lebanese government and the international community in coping with the Syrian refugee crisis. In addition to its headquarter in Baalbek, LOST runs nine sub-regional branches located in Bednayel, Chmestar, Brital, Bouday, Deir Al Ahmar, Chaat, Ersal, Ein, and Hermel. It offers programs in the education, livelihood, employability, human rights, social cohesion, peace building, good governance, food security, water and hygiene as well as gender sectors.
Emergence of New Actors
In addition to the developments of expansion, internationalization and partnering of local NGOs in Lebanon, new NGOs were founded, such as “Basmeh and Zeitooneh” (“Smile and Olive”) in order to respond to the lack of services and care provided to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Basmeh and Zeitooneh is an CSO that was founded in 2012 by a group of Syrian expats living in Lebanon.
Basmeh and Zeitooneh also offers education programs for the children of refugees, as well as workshops for young adults in order to learn vocational skills or how to run small businesses. Moreover, it organizes workshops for women, children and young people, where they can learn, among other things, handcrafts, movie-making, tea time for women, and theatre activities for children, all which serve to break the social barriers facing Syrian refugees in their host communities. The activities of the organization are especially important in Turkey, where the language constitutes a major barrier to the further integration of Syrians to their host communities.
Other initiatives are the organization SAWA that was established in 2011 by a group of students, individuals, professionals, academics, and business men, Syrian, Lebanese, and of diverse nationalities and multiple backgrounds, united for the aim to assure humanitarian relief and development aid to raise living standards of Syrian refugees, and the families in need from other nationalities. Also the foundation Kayany was established in 2013 in the run of the Syrian refugee crisis in order to assure educational support to refugees. However, it’s relationship to the government is limited to its registration as civil society organization. A number of other organizations were set up in the context of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon: the Nawaya Network (2012), URDA (2012), UTOPIA (2012), Ana Aqra (2013), March (2011), Migrant Community Center (2012), Nabad (2012), RET Lebanon (2014), SAWA for Development aid (2013), URDA (2012), Shareq (2012), Malaak (2013), MAP, (2012), etc., especially in the areas of education, healthcare, work and livelihood, as well as, food and nutrition. All these organizations where founded in the beginning or in the run of the Syrian refugee crisis by Lebanese or Syrian activists mostly with the support of private donations. Even though the creation of some of these organizations was not directly linked to the situation of Syrian refugees, the context of the Syrian refugee crisis became a decisive factor in shaping the projects and agenda of these NGO’s searching for a funding niche. Some of these organizations became implementing partners for Lebanese ministries of Education and of Public Health.
Political Tensions and Hidden Interdependencies between NGOs and Governmental Institutions on the Local and National Levels
As the Syrian refugee crisis is highly politicized, it does not have a significant impact on the Lebanese government regarding institutional or political reform. Even though the Lebanese government, international and local CSOs try to work closer together through monthly organized inter-agency meetings under the umbrella of the United Nations, mostly these meetings cause further confrontations between the policies of the Lebanese government and CSOs. The most sensitive topic is regarding the issue of job training programs offered by CSOs and the participation of refugees in the Lebanese labour market, as government representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) state that this is against Lebanese law. Syrians are only allowed to work in certain sectors, and with a work permit. Though mostly their Lebanese employers do not provide them with a work permit seeing the additional costs for their businesses. On the other hand, Lebanese state authorities rely on local CSOs with regards to funding. As international organizations tend to support rather local initiatives than the Lebanese government, that is often institutionally inefficient and accused of political corruption. Consequently, the inflow of international aid to Lebanon has created new hidden interdependencies between the Lebanese government and local CSOs.
On the local level, local CSOs try to cooperate with the Lebanese authorities through a bottom-up approach by consulting with municipalities and identifying their most important needs and eventually teaching them how to acquire certain skills in order to find solutions for the pertaining problems affecting Lebanon. Though some municipalities complain that some CSOs, especially international voluntary organizations (e.g. ACTED, DRC) aiming to implement a project to improve water or sanitary systems come to their region with the aim of implementing a project in a certain geographical area without consulting them in advance and without foreseeing a sustainable way (e.g. “capacity building”) to guarantee the continuation of the project implemented.
This article aimed to analyse the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on the action of local civil society actors in Lebanon, and question the prospective emergence of a political consensus among these local actors, by involving themselves in this highly political issue opposing different factions within the Lebanese state and society. It aimed also to investigate how this network of NGOs can be used to respond to important governance gaps. This was done by applying Ohanyan’s actor-centred NGO network theory that considers the conditions under which NGOs are empowered and/or constrained in their actions to assess their impact on institutional arrangements (e.g. democratic structures and economic growth) in a specific environment (‘narrow or weak state’ institutions). This article aimed to examine the political and social effects of local non-governmental organizations in the case of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon by analyzing their relationship with international organizations, the Lebanese weak state.
The collected data of the interviews indicates that in the absence of a strong national government and the prevailing role of the United Nations, its specialized agencies (UNHCR, OCHA, UNDP) and other international organizations (e.g. EU), local NGOs in Lebanon turned into important actors and partners of INGOs in the response and administration of the inflow of Syrians refugees in Lebanon. Moreover, when looking at the map of intervention it is beyond any doubt that the Syrian refugee crisis impacted the action of Lebanese local community organizations, as those organizations that were primarily active in South Lebanon, e.g. SHEILD, B&Z, Amel, have today projects all over the Lebanese territory. Meanwhile, local CSOs are often referred to as “implementing partners” of international organizations only few studies actually highlight the historical experience of the local organizations (Lebanese Civil War, Israel attacks in 1993, 1996, July War 2006) with emergency and development aid. The availability of funding brought again new dynamics to the role and of work of these CSO’s and the way they operate in the context of the Syrian crisis.
The Syrian Refugees situation in Lebanon can be regarded as an another critical moment in Lebanon’s history, because it gives impetus for reflection concerning Lebanon’s current asylum and migration regime. Lebanon is not state party to the Geneva Convention of 1951 on the status of refugees nor did the Lebanese government do any remarkable affords in providing socio-economic opportunities for Syrian refugees. In this particular context, once again local civil society actors proved to be reliable actors in assuring a minimum of socio-economic stability by providing basic services to Syrian refugees as to poor Lebanese to work against feelings of discrimination, isolation and exclusion. The need to provide a rapid and urgent response to the Syrian influx resulted in the emergence of new actors, like Basmeh&Zeitooneh, Kayany, Ana Aqra, March, Migrant Community Center, Nabad, RET Lebanon, SAWA for Development aid, URDA, and many more. Some of the consequences of this multiplication of CSO’s are the multiplication of inter-organizational relations to attract funds and to increase the efficiency of the action of local actors as well as the expansion of the provision of services or the geographical area of intervention within the country, increasing voice and outreach of local CSOs on the international level (e.g. Amel that was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Price for Peace and gained an observer status at the International Organization for Migration). Moreover, by circumventing state policies and cooperating rather with the local level than with the national government, these CSOs were able to maximize the efficacy of their action. Another evidence was the important role CSO played during the recent Brussels II donor conference. On the national level, the LCRP that was renewed for the third time this year represents a much more coherent response to the situation of refugees in the country defining CSO’s as partners of the different Ministries involved in the response: Ministry of Health, Education and of Social Affairs. However, since there is still no clear policy of the Lebanese government towards the issues of education, healthcare and labour market reform and key political figures keep on insisting on the need of Syrians to return to Syria, the role of CSO’s in coping with these issues will remain a prominent topic in the upcoming years. Yet, to change the role and mandate of these CSO’s within the current Lebanese reality will remain challenging.
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 At the “Supporting the Future of Syria” conference in Brussels in April 2017 and a follow up conference of London, more than 6 billion was pledged by various donor countries. At the follow up conference in Brussels in April 2017, governments pledged another 6 billion, but refused to improve refugees access to legal protection, including by increasing resettlement and other admissions in third countries. The European Union promised about 560 million euros (597.8 million USD) in 2018 for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan coupled with the opportunities of loosened trade regulations that open preferential access to markets in Europe as a result of recent compacts with the EU. Though details on how much was pledged for 2017 or part of previous pledges and commitments are yet missing. For more information on funds pledged at the Brussels conference: Idem.
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 Council of the European Union, Supporting the future of Syria and the region – Brussels conference 24.05.2018, available at: consilium.europa.eu.
 Bassem Khawaja, What the Brussels Conference means for Refugees in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch, The Daily Star, 8 May 2018.
 Mohanna, K., (2014), Intervention at the occasion of the annual conference of the Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), Show me the money! Pour des ressources axées sur les principes humanitaires « Le cas d’Amel Association International» [“For resources centred on humanitarian principles”] (in French), Ziad Abdel Samad& Bihter Moschini, “Humanitarian Assistance in Lebanon: Overview, Challenges and Recommendations. Revisiting the Humanitarian System: The Call for Country Ownership in the Case of Lebanon“, Lebanon Support, Civil Society Knowledge Centre, October 2016, Retrieved from: http://civilsociety-centre.org/sites/default/files/resources/humanitarianassistancelebanon-overviewchallengesrecommendations-ls2016.pdf, available on: 15 August 2017.
 The Paris Declaration (2005) was endorsed in order to base development efforts on first-hand experience of what works and does not work with aid. It is formulated around five central pillars: Ownership, Alignment, Harmonization, Managing for Results and Mutual Accountability, available at: http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/parisdeclarationandaccraagendaforaction.htm, [last accessed: 24 August 2017].
 Skype Interview, 27 July 2016
 Ziad Abdel Samad& Bihter Moschini, “Humanitarian Assistance in Lebanon: Overview, Challenges and Recommendations. Revisiting the Humanitarian System: The Call for Country Ownership in the Case of Lebanon“, Lebanon Support, Civil Society Knowledge Centre, October 2016, Retrieved from: http://civilsociety-centre.org/sites/default/files/resources/humanitarianassistancelebanon-overviewchallengesrecommendations-ls2016.pdf, available on: 15 August 2017.
 Kagan, M. (2011), “We live in a country of UNHCR” The UN surrogate state and refugee policy in the Middle East, Research Paper No. 201, UNHCR Policy Development and Evaluation Service.
 Janmyr, M. (2016), The Legal Status of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Working Paper March 2016, American University Beirut, Retrieved from: https://www.aub.edu.lb/ifi/publications/Documents/working_papers/20160331_Maja_Janmyr.pdf, available on: 01.07.2016.
 Grandi, F., (2018), High Commissioner of UNHCR, Intervention at conference at the American University in Beirut, Conversation with High Commissioner for Refugees and Unicef Executive Director on Investing in Youth in the Context of Crisis, 9 March 2018, in: https://www.facebook.com/events/425457754541497/?active_tab=about.
 Due to the „technicity“ of applying to international funding and the EU’s conditionality in supporting civil society organizations (e.g. Shia organizations are excluded as they are not conform with European values), Interview Program Officer Relief and Recovery, EU delegation in Beirut, 10 April 2017.
 Makhzoumi, 2016.
 Stephenson Jr, M., & Schnitzer, M. H. (2006). Interorganizational trust, boundary spanning, and humanitarian relief coordination. Nonprofit management and leadership, 17(2), 211-233.
 Abild, E., (2007), Hezbollah. A Contextual Study focusing on Human Freedom, BA Thesis in Development Studies, University of Oslo.
 Carpi, E., (2016), “Politics of Care and Social Responses in the July 2006 War: a Special Focus on Local Faith-Based Organisations”, Civil Society Knowledge Center, Lebanon Support, August, 2016, available at: http://cskc.daleel-madani.org//paper/politics-care-and-social-responses-july-2006-war-special-focus- local-faith-based-organisations, available on 20.04.2017.
 Interview with Kamel Mohanna, 26 October 2017, France 24.
 Mohanna, K., 2015, International and local NGOs, equal partners?, p.48
 Interview Project Manager AMEL Association, Beirut, 20.08.2016.
 Amel gains observer status at IOM, 27.11.2017, available at: http://amel.org/amel-gains-observer-status-at-iom/.
 Interview, Executive Director SHEILD
 Interview, Executive Director SHEILD
 Interview with Communication Officer, Basmeh&Zeitooneh, Shatila, Beirut, 26.7.2016.
 Coquelet, D., (2017), Assessing UNHCR’s Resettlement Practice: Uncertainty and Expectations of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, in: Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Between Resilience and Vulnerability, Ocotber 2017, Université Saint Joseph de Beyrouth.
 Interview, Project Coordinator, Lamia Al Masri, Beirut, 10.10.2017
 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017-2020, available at: http://www.un.org.lb/lcrp2017-2020.
 Leenders, R. (2012). Spoils of truce: Corruption and state-building in postwar Lebanon. Cornell University Press.
 Interview with the major of the Municipality of Ehden, North Lebanon, January 2017.