Conflict Dimensions of International Assistance to Refugees from Syria in Lebanon

Sibylle Stamm


This discussion paper explores a selected number of key areas of potential interaction of international assistance provided to refugees from Syria with conflict dynamics in Lebanon. It focuses on international assistance delivered inside Lebanon and does not cover aid programmes destined for Syria or other neighbouring countries. It aims to facilitate a discussion among policy makers and international aid practitioners with a view to explore necessary steps for the adaptation of aid instruments in Lebanon’s fragile context.

Data collection for this paper included field visits and consultations with representatives from the Lebanese government, donors, international aid agencies, local civil society and NGOs, as well as academics in Lebanon between 18 February and 5 March 2013.

Key Findings:

  • The international aid architecture created for the management of the Syrian refugee assistance in Lebanon is managed around and independent from the Lebanese government in direct cooperation with non-state actors on the ground. In doing so, local non-state actors are empowered in their role as service providers. As a long-term side-effect, this will inevitably contribute to reducing the little legitimacy that is still left of governmental authority in Lebanon. There are therefore signs that the current aid architecture contributes to strengthening the very patterns of clientelism and political patronage that are elements of the Lebanese system failures.
  • International assistance in Lebanon operates in a fragile context where host communities lack the services that are provided to what is likely a long-term protracted refugee population. As a result, the conventional adaptation of aid instruments on the continuum from emergency response and humanitarian assistance to early recovery and development is insufficient.
  • The distinction between humanitarian and political action is not an automatic given in the Lebanese context but one that is pro-actively created by the institution.
  • International assistance is delivered in the presence of a myriad of actors working with selected communities based on motives that are neither purely nor primarily humanitarian in nature.
  • Sustaining the availability of local community capacities is a key resource to cope with future refugee needs.
  • Networks of humanitarian aid operate in parallel of rebels, arms and supply chains into Syria.


  • Fragility and conflict sensitivity issues commonly occur on four levels: (a) Policy; (b) Institution; (c) Operational/Programming; and (d) Individual/Personal. There are distinct roles and responsibilities for political, development and humanitarian actors, effectively requiring an integrated response of the aid system as well as a conceptual harmonisation of strategies on all four levels.
  • In the context of international assistance to refugees from Syria in Lebanon, implementing agencies will have to develop specific conflict analyses tailored to their operational context, thereby taking into account the mosaic of local Lebanese and Syrian particularities. Of particular importance on the operational/programme level is the observation that some of the current programme strategies may discourage host communities from continuing their hospitality by creating reverse incentives and substitution effects, as well as tensions between host and refugee communities.
  • International coordination bodies are advised to encourage sector and area specific conflict sensitivity assessments and actively contribute to the sharing of local conflict analyses and best practices, as well as the development and monitoring of conflict sensitivity indicators.


Stamm, S. (2013). Conflict Dimensions of International Assistance to Refugees from Syria in Lebanon. Bern: KOFF/swisspeace.