The UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Arrangement Explained

Originally published on Student Christian Movement’s blog

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 

On April 14 2022 the United Kingdom and Rwanda signed a deal called the Asylum Partnership Arrangement. Since then, the government has faced heavy criticism from human rights and migrant advocacy organisations. This blog will help you to understand what this agreement is and why it has attracted strong condemnation.  

What is the agreement?  

The agreement describes itself as “a mechanism for the relocation of asylum seekers whose claims are not being considered by the United Kingdom, to Rwanda, which will process their claims and settle or remove (as appropriate) individuals after their claim is decided.” Simply put, those who arrive in the UK “irregularly” or who arrived “irregularly” since January 1, 2022, for example by crossing the English Channel, could be sent to Rwanda on a one-way ticket where their asylum claim will be processed. If Rwanda recognises their claim, they will be granted refugee status in Rwanda.

The initial pilot scheme will focus on single men who entered the country via small boats and lorries. The government said that the first transfers of asylum seekers could begin in the next few weeks.

What’s wrong with the agreement?  

Illegal under international law 

The government’s plans are most likely illegal under international law and will face many legal challenges before they can be implemented. According to UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, these plans “shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.”

The 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol are two key legal documents that define the term ‘refugee’ and sets out refugee rights in addition to the legal obligations of states to protect them. As the Asylum Partnership Arrangement creates a two-tiered asylum system, whereby those deemed to have entered the country “irregularly” are sent to Rwanda while those who have arrived via an accepted route are processed in the UK, the agreement contravenes Article 3 of the Convention which states that the provisions in the convention must be applied “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” Such provisions include access to housing, employment, education, and social security. By refusing to process and assist those who enter via the channel, the UK is contravening these internationally ratified agreements.  

It is also important to counteract the government’s narrative that those who cross the Channel in boats are “illegal immigrants” who cannot claim asylum. This is false. According to Lord Justice Edis, Mrs Justice May and Sir Nicholas Blake in a 2021 Court of Appeals Ruling:

as the law presently stands, an asylum seeker who merely attempts to arrive at the frontiers of the United Kingdom in order to make a claim is not entering or attempting to enter the country unlawfully. Even though an asylum seeker has no valid passport or identity document, or prior permission to enter the United Kingdom, this does not make his arrival at the port a breach of an immigration law.

Therefore, to treat migrants differently according to their method of entry is unlawful.  

Rwanda is not a safe country for refugees 

Rwanda is a country with significant human rights issues and the UK government has itself been a critic of human rights in Rwanda. Julian Braithewaite, director general for Europe at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said in January 2021 that the UK is concerned by “continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom” as well as calling for investigations into “allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”. Furthermore, many are concerned about human rights abuses against refugees specifically. In 2018 Rwandan security forces killed at least 12 Congolese refugees who protested a cut to food rations. A further 60 Congolese refugees were arrested on charges including rebellion and “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.” This concerning track record begs the question of how the UK can consider Rwanda to be a safe place for refugees to settle.  

There is particular concern for members of the LGBTQ+ community seeking asylum. Those fleeing a threat to their lives in one country could be sent to another country that is not safe for queer people. In 2021 the Rwandan authorities arbitrarily detained many gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children, and others in the months before a high-profile international conference. Those arrested were accused of “not representing Rwandan values.”  Many queer Rwandans have been granted asylum in the UK, further bringing into question how the UK can view Rwanda as a safe country for refugees.  

The UK is not the first country to try sending refugees to Rwanda. Israel established a similar scheme in 2015 when faced with an influx of refugees from Eritrea and Sudan. Refugees were offered a ticket to either Uganda or Rwanda, or deportation to their country of origin. The scheme failed: of the approximately 4,000 people deported by Israel to Rwanda and Uganda between 2014 and 2017, almost all are thought to have left the country soon after arrival, with many trying to return to Europe via people-smuggling routes. One can only assume that if a similar scheme is introduced in the UK, its chances of achieving its aims would be slim.

It ignores human dignity 

At a fundamental level, aside from the legal implications, this agreement violates the sacredness of each individual. Gillian Triggs says that “people fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing,” and her words reflect the Christian idea that all people are sacred bearers of God’s image and should be treated with dignity, compassion, and hospitality.

As Christians we are called to “accompany” migrants and displaced persons. Unlike other models of humanitarian assistance that view migrants as service users, accompaniment emphasises “personally standing with and sharing the journey of migrants in a spirit of compassion and respect,” as well as prioritizing “deep listening, mutual witness, and joint action…responding to the dignity of migrants as fellow children of God.” When we shift our perspective towards migrants away from viewing them as simply victims in need of saving, or economic burdens as governments like to propagandise, and instead see them as siblings in need of our solidarity and accompaniment, we can build a migration system centred around compassion, mercy, and human dignity.

A Note on Racism, Inequality, and Double Standards 

This government announcement comes amid Europe’s biggest migration crisis in decades amidst the war in Ukraine. But there is no talk of sending Ukrainian refugees to Rwanda. Instead, there are cash incentives for those willing to house families in need and a collective sense of moral duty towards Ukrainians fleeing war. This is great and should be praised. But why do we not feel the same way towards migrants arriving on boats? Why are we so willing to take in those fleeing Europe but not those fleeing conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and many other places? The difference is race, religion, and perceived differences in values. But as the UN Refugee Convention makes clear, we cannot distinguish between how we treat refugees based on their religion, ethnicity, or “acceptability.” We must quash these double standards and advocate for an asylum system that treats all in need equally and welcomes them without distinction. This work begins by examining our own biases.  

The UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Arrangement is not only illegal, but cruel and deeply inhumane. We must demand more from our policymakers so that we live in a society that seeks not to exclude migrants but instead accompany them on their journey to safety and prosperity.  

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me 

Matthew 25:35 

References

Ahmed, Y. and McDonnell, E. (2022) ‘UK Plan to Ship Asylum Seekers to Rwanda is Cruelty Itself’, Human Rights Watch, 14 April. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/14/uk-plan-ship-asylum-seekers-rwanda-cruelty-itself (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Bani, Mohamoud, Rakei and Zadeh -v- The Crown (2021). Available at: https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/bani-mohamoud-rakei-and-zadeh-v-the-crown/ (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Barbieri Jr., W.A. (2020) ‘The Migrant Imago: Migration and the Ethics of Human Dignity’, in Phan, P.C. (ed.) Christian Theology in the Age of Migration: Implications for World Christianit. Lanham, Boulder, New York, and London: Lexington Books. 

BBC News (2022) ‘Patel personally approved Rwanda plan launch after civil servant concerns’, 16 April. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-61126360 (Accessed: 16 April 2022).

Beaumont, P. (2022) ‘Rwanda’s history of receiving deportees raises concerns for potential UK scheme’, The Guardian, 17 January. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/17/rwanda-uk-asylum-seekers-deportees-israel-scheme (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) OHCHR. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-relating-status-refugees (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Memorandum of Understanding between the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the government of the Republic of Rwanda for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement (no date) GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/memorandum-of-understanding-mou-between-the-uk-and-rwanda/memorandum-of-understanding-between-the-government-of-the-united-kingdom-of-great-britain-and-northern-ireland-and-the-government-of-the-republic-of-r (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Smout, A. and Uwiringiyimana, C. (2022a) ‘Britain plans to send migrants to Rwanda under tougher asylum policy’, Reuters, 14 April. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-johnson-seeks-put-fine-behind-him-with-immigration-plan-2022-04-13/ (Accessed: 16 April 2022).

Smout, A. and Uwiringiyimana, C. (2022b) ‘Britain plans to send migrants to Rwanda under tougher asylum policy’, Reuters, 14 April. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-johnson-seeks-put-fine-behind-him-with-immigration-plan-2022-04-13/ (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Sommerlad, J. (2022) ‘What is Rwanda’s record on human rights?’, The Independent, 15 April. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-asylum-rwanda-human-rights-b2058668.html (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

The 1951 Refugee Convention (no date) UNHCR. Available at: https://www.unhcr.org/1951-refugee-convention.html (Accessed: 16 April 2022).

UN Refugee Agency opposes UK plan to export asylum (2022) UNHCR. Available at: https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/4/62585e814/un-refugee-agency-opposes-uk-plan-export-asylum.html (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Wood, P. (2022) ‘Why Rwanda plan might not work as offshore schemes by Australia, Israel and Denmark all failed’, inews.co.uk, 14 April. Available at: https://inews.co.uk/news/rwanda-scheme-might-not-work-offshore-asylum-schemes-failures-1577123 (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Cover Image: “rwanda” by rezendi is marked with CC BY 2.0.

IR Made Easy: The Israel–United Arab Emirates Peace Agreement

In a surprise statement from US President Donald Trump this week, it was announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel have signed an historic peace deal aimed at normalising relations between the two nations. Coming at a time of heightened regional tensions surrounding Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, the agreement has sent diplomatic shockwaves across the world. So what is the agreement and what does it mean for the region?

What is the agreement?

The Israel–United Arab Emirates Peace Agreement, also known as the Abraham Accord, is an agreement to establish official diplomatic ties between both countries. Brokered by Donald Trump, it is the third such agreement between Israel and an Arab nation, following Egypt’s agreement in 1979 and Jordan’s agreement in 1994. In return for full diplomatic relations, the agreement says that Israel will agree to drop its plans for annexation of parts of the West Bank.

The agreement is far-reaching in terms of its implications for UAE-Israeli cooperation and outlines plans for the exchange of embassies and normal trade ties between the two countries. Diplomats from both nations will meet to sign bilateral deals regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, and the environment, amongst other areas of mutual interest. In particular, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, said Israel would co-operate with the UAE in developing a coronavirus vaccine.

The UAE, Israel, and the US will join together to establish a “Strategic Agenda for the Middle East,” as the leaders “share a similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability through diplomatic engagement, increased economic integration, and closer security co-ordination.”

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on February 11, 2016. Source: Prime Minister’s Office (GODL-India)

International Reactions

Responses to the surprise deal range from full-hearted support to enraged outcry. Several nations were keen to praise the deal. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed support for the agreement, saying “it was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and today’s agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East”. The accord was also praised by Bahrain, and Oman hoped the agreement will help achieve peace in the Middle East. Egypt‘s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a close UAE ally, celebrated the agreement, seeing it as “steps to bring peace in the Middle East.” Germany also expressed support for the announcement, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying that the normalisation of diplomatic ties between Israel and the UAE “is an important contribution to peace in the region.” China has also indicated its support, with foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian saying “China is happy to see measures that are helping to ease tensions between countries in the Middle East and promoting regional peace and stability.” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres hopes the agreement will be an opportunity to realise a two-state solution with Palestine.

Other nations were more cautious to show full support for the agreement and emphasised the need for Israel to honour its commitment to Palestine. Spain welcomed the agreement, hoping that “Israel’s commitment to suspend the annexing of parts of the West Bank will become permanent.” Simmilarly, France welcomed Israel’s decision to halt its annexation parts of the West Bank, with Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying this suspension “must become a definitive measure.” In the Middle East, Jordan said that the deal could push forward peace negotiations on the condition that it succeeds in convincing Israel to allow a Palestinian state on territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Other nations and groups were critical of the deal. Turkey criticised the “hypocritical behaviour” of the United Arab Emirates, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatening to suspend diplomatic relations with the Abu Dhabi administration or withdraw their ambassador. Palestine‘s President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the accord and Hamas have followed suit. Right-wing Israeli settlers are unhappy with the agreement, as plans for annexation are being suspended. But perhaps the most outspoken critic of the agreement is Iran, with President Hassan Rouhani saying the UAE made a “huge mistake” by normalising ties with Israel. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps warned of dangerous consequences for the UAE, saying that the deal would accelerate Israel’s demise.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has harshly criticised the agreement. Source: Khamenei.ir

Implications for International Relations

The agreement certainly came as a surprise to many and could alter relationships in the region. The closer alignment of Israel and the UAE is indicative of a wider trend in the region of Sunni Arab states viewing Iran as a greater threat than Israel; counteracting this threat is more important to them than resolving the Palestine Conflict and this deal could see Israel and the UAE collaborating further in the future to oppose Iranian regional influence. Thus tensions between Iran and Sunni Arab states could increase as a result of the accord.

Although the public announcement of the deal was unexpected, diplomats in the region have long been aware of clandestine UAE-Israel ties. The normalisation of diplomatic relations is in line with Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s aggressively interventionist foreign and security policies which have backed the Saudi-led war in Yemen, opposed Islamist movements and state sponsors such as Qatar and Turkey, and intervention in the Libyan civil war. Israel and the UAE already cooperate on intelligence issues and Israeli diplomats have been present at the Abu Dhabi HQ of the International Renewable Energy Agency. The UAE is not alone in the region in terms of developing underground ties with Israel – Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are all known to have discreetly engaged with the Israelis, and perhaps the UAE’s normalisation will set a precedent to be followed by other Gulf nations.

Although the deal sees the UAE formally recognising Israel as a nation, their embassy will not be located in Jerusalem. Despite commiting to abandon plans to annex parts of Palestine, Netanyahu clarified that the “application of Israeli sovereignty” was not off the table, but rather temporarily suspended. The raprochement of the two nations is certainly a step in a new direction, but still far from seeing eye-to-eye on issues in the region.

The Abraham Accord will certainly change the dynamics in the Middle East. While some see this as an opportunity to foster peace in the region, others fear that Palestine will be forgotten and abandoned if other Arab nations normalise ties with Israel. It goes to show that diplomacy in the Middle East is fast moving and often unpredictable, and it will be interesting to see what ensues from the agreement once the dust from this ground-breaking accord settles.

Sources

Al Araby: “Erdogan says Turkey could suspend relations with UAE after Israel deal”

The Guardian: “The UAE-Israel deal will make a two-state solution even less likely”

The Times of Israel: “Iran: UAE made ‘huge mistake’ with Israel deal, and now faces ‘dangerous future’”

Arab News: “World leaders voice hope UAE-Israel deal could kickstart Middle East peace talks”

BBC News: “Israel and UAE strike historic deal to normalise relations”

Al Jazeera: “How the world reacted to UAE, Israel normalising diplomatic ties”

New York Times: “Israel and United Arab Emirates Strike Major Diplomatic Agreement”

Photo Credit: Grand Mosque at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Kel Avelino on Unsplash

IR Made Easy: The Riyadh Agreement on Yemen

Since withdrawing from the Riyadh Agreement in January 2020 in protest against violence in Shabwa province and declaring self-rule in April 2020, southern separatists in Yemen, known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC), have now announced that they will abandon their aspirations of autonomy in order to implement the peace deal with the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. With major implications for the politics, military, security, and international relations in the region, this power-sharing deal could reshape the conflict in Yemen. So what is the Riyadh Agreement and why is it important?

What is the Riyadh Agreement?

Signed on 5 November 2019 in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the agreement is a power-sharing deal between the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the UAE-backed STC. It allows for power-sharing between north and south and the return of Prime Minister Moeen Abdelmalek to Aden to set up state institutions.

As per the agreement, both sides agree to nine commitments:

  1. Full implementation of newly created Yemeni state instituions.
  2. Reorganisation of military forces under the Ministry of Defence.
  3. Regoranisation of the security forces under the Ministry of Interior.
  4. Complete citizenship rights for all Yemenis.
  5. An end to all offensive media campaigns.
  6. To work together to restore security and stability in Yemen and to confront terrorist organisations.
  7. Formation of a committee specialising in monitoring, executing, and implementing the agreement.
  8. Discussion of a final political solution to the coup staged by Iran-backed Houthi Militia.
  9. Immediate issuing of instructions to all of state institutions by the President to implement the agreement.

Political and Economic Implications

The political and economic arrangements of the agreement are set out in appendix 1. A new technocratic government is to be set up that has no more than 24 ministers – 12 from the north and 12 from the south. Those selected to be ministers must not have taken part in or incited people to participate in any clashes between the two sides. Furthermore, the Yemeni President must appoint new governors for the governates of Aden, Abyan, and Dhale.

The appendix also sets out rules for how state revenue is to be handled. All state revenues are to be deposited in the Central Bank in Aden and the government must follow an approved budget. To ensure government spending is held to account, a regular report that is transparent regarding government revenues and spending is to be presented to the parliament for evaluation and audit. This is likely to be unpopular in certain governorates – namely Marib, Hadhramaut, and Shabwa – that have taken control of their oil revenues.

Military Implications

The second annex to the agreement deals with military arrangements. All forces and artillery that moved towards Aden, Abyan, and Shabwa since the beginning of August 2019 will return to their former positions and will be replaced by official security forces. The only exception to this is The First Presidential Protection Brigade. In additon, Military forces will be reorganised and placed under the control of the Defence Ministry, particularly those in the governorates of Abyan and Lahij.

Security Implications

The final annex outlines next steps for Yemen’s security forces. The STC forces will be incorporated into the Ministries of Interior and Defence. Government and STC military forces will leave Aden within 30 days and Saudi Arabia will oversee security inside the city. Tasked with protecting civilian infrastructure, the interior ministry’s director for security will create a defence force.

Destroyed house in Sana’a. Photo: Ibrahem Qasim.

Implications for International Relations and Obstacles to Implementation

The situation in Yemen is complex with many factions and international actors at play. Implementing the Riyadh Agreement requires a high level of cooperation between warring Yemeni factions as well as between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This may prove too difficult for the parties and no progress will be made in resolving the conflict. Furthermore, the agreement will be supervised by a committee established by the coalition; following the UAE’s withdrawal from Yemen, this will be dominated by the Saudis.

For the agreement to be a success, the UAE must prioritise its relations with Saudi Arabia over its support for the STC. This will prove to be difficult, as Saudi-Emirati relations have long been strained.

The agreement has also been critisised for not including other factions outside of the Hadi government and the STC. These two groups fundamentally disagree over the future of Yemen, with the former seeking unity and the latter seeking separatism. The Riyadh agreement is thus not a hollisitc, long-term solution for Yemen.

Yemenis are optimistic that the plan’s implementation will bring some stability to the nation. Former deputy prime minister and presidential adviser Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi described the news that the STC will implement the agreement as representing the start of a “new phase” in bringing peace to Yemen. But this “new phase” will only come to fruition if all sides keep their commitments and work hard to implement the plans in the agreement. It’s fair to say that although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go on the road towards peace in Yemen.

Sources

“Yemen’s Riyadh Agreement: An overview” (Al Jazeera)

“Yemen: Why the Riyadh Agreement is collapsing” (European Council on Foreign Relations)

“War and pieces: Political divides in southern Yemen” (European council on Foreign Relations)

Text of the Riyadh Agreement (Middle East Monitor)

Cover photo: Kingdom Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Hala Al Ghanim on Unsplashed.

IR Made Easy: Lebanon’s Economic Crisis

Countries around the world are struggling to cope with the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Lebanon was heading towards crisis before the virus became an issue. Once admired as a beacon of stability in an increasingly unstable region, Lebanon is facing an unprecedented economic crash and a massive rise in poverty. So what’s happened and how did the country get to this position?

What’s happening

Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis in the modern era. The local currency, the Lebanese Lira, is in freefall and lost 60% of its value over June, as well as decreasing in value by 80% since October. Grappling with an economy on the verge of hyper-inflation, the government has been unable to fund wheat imports, leading to bread shortages. Other essentials, such as medicines, safe drinking water, power, and internet access, are in short supply as thousands descend into poverty; the world bank projected that over half of the population would fall below the poverty line this year. With the world’s third highest public debt to GDP ratio and an umeployment rate of 25%, the government has announced that they will default on their foreign debts.

Many Lebanese feel that the government is not doing enough to support people and the economy, and many people have taken to the streets in the largest anti-government protests seen in over a decade. Public pressure led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, leading to the formation of a new government in January. However, a change in leadership has not brought the drastic change needed to the country and protests are still ongoing.

Lebanese protesters gather outside a money transfer service provider shop in the southern city of Sidon. AFP via Getty Images.

How Lebanon got here

Many see the collapse of Lebanon’s economy as something that was inevitable. Successive Lebanese governments have been accused of economic mismanagement, endemic corruption, and overspending. But the main catalyst for the current situation was the shortage of foreign currency in October 2019, causing the value of the Lebanese Lira to fall against the dollar on the black markets that emerged. To increase revenue, the government introduced sweeping tax proposals on commodities such as tobacco, petrol, and voice calls, but these plans were fiercely opposed by Lebanese citizens and were thus rescinded. Although a lockdown imposed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic forced many protesters off the streets, it also worsened the economic crisis and exposed the inadequacies of the country’s welfare system.

Following the resignation of Saad Hariri, Hassan Diab assumed the position of Prime Minister promising economic reforms, but these have been forgotten and not implemented. Many blame ruling elites who have built up their own wealth over the years while failing to reform the struggling economic system. Lebanon’s economic crisis is ultimately the result of poor economic policy and institutional corruption.

Political commentary on the streets of Gemmayze, East Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash.

Implications for international relations

Lebanon’s economic crisis also has implications for the future of Lebanon’s foreign policy and relations. Lebanon has sought support from the International Monetary Fund, but after six weeks of discussion, talks have stalled due to arguments within the Lebanese delegation. This comes alongside a reduction in international transfers as more foreign banks want to avoid the Lebanese banking sector, which faces accusations of mismanagement.

The international community have not been keen to help Lebanon’s struggling economy. The country’s western allies have been offering an $11 billion loan package since 2018, but this is on the condition that the government implements reforms in the public sector; as these changed haven’t been made, the loans have not been granted. Furthermore, many nations are concerned about Iran-backed Hezbollah’s involvement in Lebanese politics, and on this basis wealthy Persian Gulf nations are refusing to offer assistance to the country. The US has repeatedly said that any aid offered to Lebanon would be on the condition that Hezbollah withdraws from government.

In order to access foreign aid and investment, Lebanon would have to dramatically change their domestic and foreign policies, particularly in relation to Iran and Hezbollah, which would be destabilising for the region and create a more complex and dangerous situation. But until even the smallest reforms in Lebanon’s fiscal policies are made, the international community will be reluctant to offer any form of financial support to the nation.

Protests have continued, even during lockdown. Photo by Christelle Hayek on Unsplash.

What can Lebanon do now?

Writing for Forbes, Tatiana Koffman makes two suggestions for how Lebanon can deal with their fiscal issues, although neither of them are without their drawbacks. The first is dollarisation, a policy where a nation adopts the dollar as their main form of currency. This was used by Zimbabwe in 2009 following hyperinflation. Adopting the dollar is seen as a safe currency substitute, particularly for nations with high dollar-based debts and imports.

Dollarisation poses two problems. Firstly, by adopting the US currency, a nation surrenders its financial future to the stability of America. Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic has engendered a global shortage of dollars, and driving a demand for this currency in Lebanon would only bolster black markets.

The second suggestion is adopting cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which is now widely being used in Venezuela. The advantage of these digital currencies are that they are independent of governments and banks. Expats can also safely send funds into the country using Bitcoin without undergoing government scrutiny. However, a switch to Bitcoin would require mass education and awareness of Lebanese communities, which is difficult at a time when many public places are closed and internet connections are unreliable.

The next few months will be crucial in determining Lebanon’s financial and political future. The international community cannot continue to ignore the situation when thousands are facing starvation and extreme poverty, and the Lebanese government will not survive if it doesn’t implement reforms to support the population. But in a time of global uncertainty, it will be hard to predict what the next steps for Lebanon will be.

Sources

The Washington Post: “The lights go out on Lebanon’s economy as financial collapse accelerates”

Forbes: “Lebanon’s Currency Crisis Paves The Way To A New Future”

CNN: “Dumpster diving, blackouts and suicides. Lebanon’s woes laid bare as crisis deepens”

BBC: “Lebanon: Why the country is in crisis”