Negotiating Lebanon’s urban boundaries and sectarian space: Syrian refugees in Beirut and Tripoli

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As Syrian refugee numbers in Lebanon have increased, so has the hostility directed towards them, with targeted attacks against informal encampments and public restrictions on Syrian mobility through localized curfews and military checkpoints. The Syrian experience is constrained by both their precarity as refugees and the volatility of Lebanese urban politics. Syrians must navigate the complex terrain of moral and socio-spatial Lebanese boundaries: when to keep silent or remain publicly invisible, how to navigate sectarian street dynamics, and how to respond to heightened public sensibilities. This article, based on six months ethnographic research (2017–2018) among Syrian refugees in Tripoli (Bab al-Tabbaneh) and Beirut (Nab’a) examines how Syrian refugees navigate Lebanese urban spatial realities—adapting and responding to its complex hybrid sovereignties, sectarian atmospheres and everyday security practices. The findings attest to how Syrian refugees seek ‘security within borders’ through practices of rootedness, invisibility and ‘safe space’ boundary marking, while also accepting that crossing boundaries—physical military checkpoints and immaterial social barriers—can result in public confrontations, detention, and violence. Although Syrian refugees attempt to remain apolitical and deliberately disengaged from Lebanese sectarian networks of power, their everyday choices (rent, electricity fees) and physical presence connect them to local political contests and rivalries.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date29 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Sept 2022


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