UN Presence in Lebanon

Growing up in London, the UN was never of much concern or interest; they were at best, some fabled organisation that simply ‘solved the world’s problems’. The return to Lebanon later on in my life somewhat complicated this rather stark definition.

Many of the family and friends that I know in Lebanon live in the Southern part of the country, Tyre/Sur, close to the border of Israel and one of the most active locations for Hezbollah supporters. It is also a part of Lebanon where UN presence is the most prevalent, the sight of their blue cobalt berets and UN tanks rolling through the streets a common occurrence.

Having arrived in the country in 1978, the UN were part of the country’s defence against the Israeli invasion and since then have been witness to revolutions, State dissolution, further conflict with Israel IDF forces and now, the Syrian/Palestinian refugee crisis.

Whilst the UN had been key in the continued resistance against Israeli forces, the mood toward the organisation has shifted in recent years and there is definitely a taste of bitterness in the mouths of locals when speaking of the once revered peacekeepers.

After the 2006 war with Israel, Kofi Annan visited the country in an effort to solidify the positive image of the UN within the country. Annan was met with protests by the angry residents of Beirut's devastated southern suburbs, frustrated at the UN's passivity in the face of the destruction wreaked by the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. The situation and feeling toward the UN since then has worsened still.

According to UNHCR figures, Lebanon receives over 2,000 Syrian and Palestinian refugees everyday, most of the camps populating the Southern areas of the country. The largest of these camps Ain al-Hilweh, shelters 61,000 Palestinian refugees.

Recently, the UN have come under fire for sustaining such an expansive camp; the locals becoming fearful of the growing numbers of refugees that live so close to the residential areas. This hasn’t been helped by the reports of Islamic Republic terrorists finding refuge within its walls. As part of an agreement overseen by the UN between Palestinian leadership and the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army cannot exercise control within the camps and are relegated to manning the checkpoints at its entrance, this has left opportunity for different factions within the camp to battle over control, often with deadly consequences.

This is a situation that does not have easy answers for the government nor the UN who seek to maintain some kind of order within the disarray of war and crises, however there is a growing concern amongst the Lebanese that the UN are at best passive observers of the growing dissention in the country and at worst, as one Beirut resident described: “an instrument in the hands of the Americans."

Author: Victoria Basma