Social cohesion and stability between Syrian refugees and host communities

Published 04. Jan 2021
A decade since the start of the Syrian crisis, nearly all Syrian refugee families in Lebanon live in poverty and struggle to meet their basic needs. As part of their response, the World Food Programme (WFP) provides multi-purpose cash (MPC) assistance to 23,000 Syrian refugee households in Lebanon, supporting some of the most vulnerable refugees in meeting their basic needs.

Conducted by the Overseas Development Institute in partnership with the Cash Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning Organisational Network (CAMEALEON).

Hosting the largest per capita refugee population in the world, Lebanon has been coping with nine years of refugee influxes and prolonged displacement which has invariably impacted the country’s social fabric.

In 2018 and 2019, CAMEALEON partnered with the Overseas Development Institute to examine the role of WFP MPC in shaping relations, social cohesion and stability among Syrian refugees as well as between Syrian refugees and their host communities in Lebanon.

Drawing on the experiences and perceptions of 270 respondents at three sites in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, this research is based on in-depth interviews and focus group discussions to understand whether MPC played a role in influencing opportunities for interactions; sources of solidarity, support and tension; and the experience and perceptions of discrimination, safety and security. 

Key findings include:

Social cohesion and stability within Syrian communities

  • MPC enables recipients to cover transportation costs to visit acquaintances and family.
  • There is a widespread perception that not all those in need are receiving MPC, which leads to feelings of compassion as well as discomfort on the part of MPC recipients. There is also discontent arising from the lack of clarity regarding why some are discontinued and others are not.
  • The point of MPC withdrawal at ATMs is also a source of interaction where there is collaboration in terms of assisting MPC e-card holders who have difficulties understanding the ATM withdrawal process as well as resulting long queues and waiting times can fuel arguments and tensions.

Social cohesion and stability between Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities

  • A source of tension concerns the latter’s perceptions of differential treatment between the two groups which is exacerbated by the context of high inequality and poverty, a stagnant labour market and weak social service provision.
  • There were examples of the MPC enabling opportunities for exchange and encounter, for instance by enabling recipients to visit markets and facilitating meetings with Lebanese friends. Likewise, a source of tension was also linked to the MPC withdrawal process and the long queues and waiting times at ATMs on the date of the MPC delivery.

The labour market and workplace

  • Perception that Syrian refugees are taking jobs in an already crowded labour market. Cash assistance could aggravate this by enabling Syrian refugees to accept lower paid work, potentially also exerting a downward pressure on work remuneration.

The local economy

  • Several study respondents saw MPC as beneficial to local economies by enabling vulnerable Syrian refugees to purchase goods in local shops and spend on local services.
  • The MPC allowed recipients to reduce previously accumulated debts and repay Lebanese lenders, leading to improved relations and dynamics.
  • Conversely, discontinuation was associated with heightened tensions, with discontinued refugees struggling to pay back debts and Lebanese less willing to lend or accept delays in debt payments.

Shelter and accommodation

  • MPC receipt is shown to facilitate timely rent payment, while discontinuation or non-receipt is linked to delayed or partial rent payments, in turn associated with deteriorating relationships and breakdown in trust.


  • MPC plays a critical role in enabling recipients to meet costs associated with accessing healthcare services, also leading to improved relations between Syrian refugees and healthcare service providers.


  • A key barrier to interaction between Syrian and Lebanese students is linked to the nature of the double shift system implemented in response to the influx in students. Respondents largely perceived teachers as fair and reserving equal treatment across different students.

Established in late 2017, CAMEALEON is a NGO-led network co-managed by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Solidarités International. CAMEALEON conducts independent MEAL, research and analysis in support of the WFP MPC programme as well as to contribute to wider sectoral learning on humanitarian cash assistance. The research was conceptualized and conducted with support from the WFP MPC Steering Committee and UNHCR, and aims to address the globally recognized gap in evidence on the multi-sectoral impacts of MPC.

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