The Lebanese Diaspora in Germany: From Civil War to Beirut Port Explosion

© Thomas Wolf - Wikimedia

I. Introduction

"Rest easy, Nabih [Berri]. Berlin has become Chiyah!" (with reference to a neighborhood in Beirut associated with the Amal Movement). This chant reverberated through the German city of Berlin on the day of the 2022 Lebanese parliamentary elections. A group of young men, surrounded by flags of the Amal Movement, gathered on the side of the road, proclaiming their support. Just outside the camera frame, a female voice responded sharply, "To hell with you, Berlin will never be Chiyah!"

The widespread circulation of this video on social networks, along with the media coverage of Lebanese citizens voting in Germany and the subsequent election results, brought attention to the issue of Lebanese immigration to Germany. Despite the significant number of Lebanese individuals currently residing in Germany, this migration has received scant attention in scholarly literature.1With the exception of a doctoral dissertation titled "Refugees from Lebanon to Berlin: The Question of Integration of Ethnic Minorities," written in German by writer Ralph Ghadban focused specifically on Lebanese and Arab gangs in Germany.

According to data released by the German Federal Statistical Office in 2021, approximately 155,000 individuals of Lebanese descent are registered with official departments in Germany. Among them, 87,000 are first-generation migrants, while 68,000 were born in Germany to parents of Lebanese origin, making up the second generation.2 These figures exclude naturalized Lebanese citizens who have obtained German citizenship, as well as Palestinians who arrived in Germany from Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

This research aims to provide an encompassing overview of the Lebanese diaspora community in Germany from various perspectives. It will explore the historical context of Lebanese migration, the diverse groups that have migrated, the circumstances surrounding initial migration and its impact on immigrants' relationship with the host country and society. The paper examines the influence of these conditions on the second generation. Furthermore, it analyzes the relationship between Lebanese migrants and their home country, exploring the issues that drive them and how this relationship has evolved since 2019. It will also investigate the involvement of Lebanese political parties in Germany and explore the dynamics between new and old migration.

Drawing on interviews conducted primarily with individuals who arrived in Germany after the economic collapse of 2019 and the devastating explosion of 4 August 2020, which destroyed the Beirut Port and parts of the capital, this study will assess the extent to which this new wave of Lebanese arrivals in Germany seeks and has the opportunity to engage in political movements advocating for political change in Lebanon.

Although the Lebanese community is dispersed across various cities in southern and western Germany, this study will focus primarily on Berlin residents. Through a series of open, semi-structured, formal, and informal interviews, many of which took place in person or via Zoom, this research aims to reconstruct the experiences and perspectives of individuals from diverse age groups, backgrounds, and professional fields such as medicine, art, engineering, academia, research, journalism, social work, blacksmithing, and the restaurant industry. These individuals arrived in Germany from Lebanon at different times and through different pathways.

II.  First Lebanese Emigration to Germany

In contrast to the immigration patterns from Lebanon to France before and during the civil war, which primarily involved the middle and bourgeois classes and targeted educated individuals and Francophone groups, emigration from Lebanon to Germany took a different trajectory. The majority of Lebanese migrants who settled in Germany were workers seeking economic survival amidst the turmoil of war, with a significant proportion having lower levels of formal education.

This wave of Lebanese migration originated predominantly from the Palestinian camps, beginning in 1975, as well as from southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This trend continued until the end of the civil war in the early 1990s.

1. Crossing from Lebanon to Germany

Ali Marouf, also known as Abu Hassan, was born in the Rashidieh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon and had most recently resided in the Tal al-Zaatar camp. During the initial wave of Lebanese asylum seekers to Germany, Abu Hassan was 17 when he sought refuge in East Germany on 12 August 1976, a few months after the fall of the Tal al-Zaatar camp.

"The decision to choose Germany was based on several factors," Abu Hassan explained. "Firstly, it offered relatively easy access compared to other European countries. East Germany, in particular, had a straightforward visa application process that was both quick and affordable (5 Deutschmarks). We obtained our visas through a travel agency in Lebanon, flew directly from Beirut to East Germany, and then traveled onward to West Germany. The borders were relatively open, with border guards often turning a blind eye, and passports were not required. Since we were fleeing from the ravages of war in search of safety, the only option for residency was to submit asylum applications."3Interview with Ali Marouf (Abu Hassan), an activist in Arab associations dealing with refugee affairs, in Berlin on January 18, 2023.

According to Abu Hassan, there were additional reasons for choosing Germany. The refugees held admiration for the country due to its robust industry, strong economy, and the presence of numerous job opportunities compared to other European countries. Furthermore, Germany provided social assistance, despite the language barrier and the challenges associated with learning German.

The second and third waves of refugees followed a similar pattern, originating from Lebanon, particularly the south, the Bekaa Valley, and the Palestinian camps. These subsequent waves occurred after the Israeli invasion in 1982 and the War of the Camps in 1986 and 1987, continuing until 1990.

If Abu Hassan sought asylum in Germany at a young age and, despite initial difficulties, managed to adapt to his new country and learn the language, this was not the case for the majority of refugees, particularly those in their forties and fifties, who faced more significant obstacles.

For example, Tawfiq Dirani, a blacksmith who arrived in Germany from Baalbek in 1990, shared his experience: "I was 21 years old, and the only language I knew was the Baalbeki dialect."4Interview with Tawfiq al-Dirani, a blacksmith, conducted in Berlin on January 20, 2023. Tawfiq had to leave school during his elementary years and started working. As he grew older, he fought in southern Lebanon alongside the Communist Action Organization before deciding to leave the country.

Initially, Tawfiq aspired to go to Canada. He left Lebanon via Syria, then traveled through Bulgaria and Budapest to reach East Germany. The visa for East Germany cost him 15 Deutschmarks. "When I arrived in East Germany, I no longer had the means to continue my journey to Canada, so I stayed there. From East Germany, I made my way to West Germany, and that's where my journey began."

Tawfiq Al-Dirani also managed to learn German, both reading and writing. In Germany, he also learned to read and write Arabic. He married a Belgian woman, which facilitated his obtaining Belgian citizenship and subsequently aided his residency in Germany. He excelled in his profession as a blacksmith, with a client base comprising both Arabs and Germans. Tawfiq adapted, developed his skills, and took advantage of the opportunities and possibilities offered by the country.

However, the majority of first-generation immigrants faced significant challenges in obtaining residency and, as a result, remained for many years on the fringes of society. This marginalization likely contributed to their limited cultural and financial involvement in the new society, as mentioned during the interviews.

2. German Policy vis-à-vis Refugees from Lebanon

“When we sought refuge in Germany, the recognition of asylum was a rarity. Only a very small percentage of individuals obtained residency, while the majority of applications were denied, leading to deportations back to Lebanon. Those who appealed the decisions faced lengthy waiting periods.”5Interview with Ali Maarouf, ibid.

During the initial stages of displacement from Lebanon between 1970 and 1990, the German state authorities primarily recognized political asylum. However, most asylum applications from Lebanese individuals were rejected by the courts, on the basis that they were not considered political asylum seekers but individuals fleeing a civil war.

Individuals who appealed the decisions were granted a Duldung, a temporary stay permit, while awaiting a final ruling. This practice was implemented in line with the Geneva Convention, which obligated the German state to provide protection rights to refugees. The Duldung provided limited protection from deportation but offered few rights to its holders. Beyond the food coupons, finding employment was challenging because employers were often hesitant to hire individuals with temporary residency, limited language skills, or proper identification.6Interview with Marianne Samaha, migration researcher based in Berlin, conducted on February 27, 2023.

At the time, Germany did not view itself as a destination country for immigration. The government treated asylum seekers from Lebanon as temporary guests, expecting them to return home once the crisis prompting their departure had subsided.7Ibid. This approach aligned with Germany's immigration policies for workers who arrived from Turkey and other countries under labor recruitment agreements in the 1950s and 1960s. These workers were commonly referred to as "guest workers" or Gastarbeiter, and the government also considered their presence temporary.8Ibid.

Many Lebanese arrivals settled in neighborhoods alongside Turkish communities, primarily working-class areas near the wall that divided West and East Berlin, with limited infrastructure.9Ibid. Those who had the opportunity often found work in the automobile trade, blacksmithing, carpentry, and the restaurant industry.10The number of those who still hold this permit ranges between 5,000 and 6,000. They are people born in Germany to Lebanese, Palestinian and Kurdish parents who came from Lebanon and Turkey, according to Marianne Samaha.

However, what was initially perceived as a temporary situation continued indefinitely. Tens of thousands of Lebanese immigrants and their children, who were born in Germany, lived for years under the Duldung permit. Many faced significant challenges in accessing the labor market, and while some managed to secure opportunities and obtain residency, others resorted to illegal and informal work.

The German government intermittently announced that individuals who had resided in the country for 15 years, learned German, held a job, and had a clean criminal record could apply for residency.11Interview with Ali Maarouf, ibid. In 2000, a new law came into effect, reducing the required residency period to eight years.12There are no official published figures on the number of Lebanese who obtained German citizenship. However, according to a study published in German, 8,113 Lebanese men and women obtained German citizenship between 2015 and 2020. This law also introduced recognition of nationality based on jus soli (birthright), shifting from the previous emphasis on jus sanguinis (right of blood).13Interview with Marianne Samaha, ibid.

3. Communities Isolated and Self-Segregated:

The asylum policy adopted by the German authorities during the initial stage, combined with other factors such as language, cultural, and religious differences, led to the isolation and self-segregation of Lebanese refugees, who sought to build separate communities apart from German society.

The isolation experienced by the Lebanese refugees heightened their need for social networks that could provide support and assistance. Consequently, social and educational associations were established to teach the Arabic language to the new generations. Additionally, religious associations emerged,14Ibid. some of which served as covers for the activities of certain political parties.15Interview with Ali Maarouf, ibid.

One prominent and active association is the Al-Balagh Association, affiliated with the political party, Amal Movement, and founded in 1986.16 The association owns a center for refugee reception and rehabilitation, as well as an educational club that organizes activities for children, including annual competitions for the Holy Qur'an and other religious activities.

Another notable association is Al-Irshad, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and operates as a religious, educational, and cultural organization. It includes a scout team and a football team17 and organizes programs during the month of Ramadan such as Quran recitation, supplications, prayers, religious sermons, and the reading of Quranic stories. It also celebrates religious events and facilitates trips to visit holy places. In addition, there is the Al-Hussein Center in Berlin, affiliated with the Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah Foundation, and the Imam Sayed Musa al-Sadr Cultural Center.

These isolated communities eventually thrived and became distinct as their members obtained residency and citizenship,18Abdul Raouf Sinno,"Lebanese Asylum to Germany: Hesitation between Isolation and Integration" (Arabic), Nawafeth, 27 January 2002. especially after the German government amended the conditions for residency and naturalization. The increased financial resources enabled them to establish strong clan and religious networks that often surpassed the intensity of those in Lebanon, as described in an article by Abdul Raouf Sinno in 2002.19Ibid: "Clan affiliation appears clearly among the Kurds who came from Lebanon during the war."

However, there are concerns that “many Lebanese individuals who immigrated to Germany 30 to 40 years ago still maintain a mindset rooted in the time they left Lebanon. They tend to remain in their own social circles, holding onto their sectarian affiliations and old social habits without necessarily being open to new experiences or learning from the experiences of others.”20Interview with Tawfiq al-Dirani, ibid. Tawfiq Dirani points out that a significant portion of the Lebanese community in Germany still perceives themselves as guests or temporary residents, with Lebanon being their primary connection. “They rely on government aid while building houses in Lebanon that they do not permanently reside in, and purchasing cars that remain parked for 11 months only to be used during their visits to Lebanon.”

Lebanese artist Said Baalbaki, who has been living in Berlin since 2002, adds that “the crisis faced by the diaspora lies in the stagnation of their political growth once they leave Lebanon. Those living outside the country often do not experience the daily hardships faced by Lebanese society, such as electricity and water shortages, lack of access to medicine, and the high cost of healthcare. This situation perpetuates an idealized and romanticized notion of sectarian or political representation while creating existential anxieties tied to one's sect,” which the Lebanese carry with them wherever they go and forms a core part of their identity.21Interview with Said Baalbaki, a Lebanese artist based in Berlin, conducted on January 19, 2023.

4. The Second Generation

The Lebanese community in Germany consists of 155,000 individuals, with 87,000 belonging to the first generation and 68,000 comprising the second generation.22

“The situation of the second generation, and to some extent the third, is generally better than that of the first generation.”23Ali Maarouf, ibid. Being born in Germany, they attended schools, learned the language, and entered the labor market. However, some of them were born with the Duldung permit, and others have maintained a strong connection to their family environment and the culture in which they were raised. While not necessarily politically aligned with Lebanese party leaders, they are emotionally influenced by the atmosphere within their homes.

In many Lebanese households in Germany, Lebanese television channels and programs run throughout the day. Tawfiq al-Dirani, who frequently visits Lebanese homes and shops in Berlin due to his work, notes the significant influence of these programs in shaping political opinions and strengthening sectarian affiliations. Al-Manar TV and NBN, which are, respectively,  affiliated with the "Shiite duo" parties Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have a notable presence according to al-Dirani's observations. These two parties are also the primary Lebanese political forces in Germany, as evident from the results of the Lebanese parliamentary elections in 2018 and 2022.24Tawfiq al-Dirani, ibid.

The aforementioned cultural and educational associations, which focus on teaching the Arabic language and promoting religion, have a significant impact on the intellectual and political development of their members. These associations, with their considerable presence in Berlin alone, enroll between 600 and 700 male and female students. From a young age, these associations foster ideas, beliefs, and a sense of belonging,25Ali Maarouf, ibid. creating the potential for the second generation to become an extension of the first. Lessons learned and experiences gained by the first generation may be passed down to their children.

Furthermore, the stereotypical image of Lebanese individuals in Germany has negative repercussions on both the second generation and the newcomers from Lebanon. A recent study26Ozgur Ozvatan, Bastian Neuhauser, Gokce Yurdakul, “The ‘Arab Clans’ Discourse: Narrating Racialization, Kinship, and Crime in the German Media”, Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research, 2023. analyzing German media discourse over the past decade highlights the description of all Arab immigrant groups as "Arab clans." This portrayal exposes Arab immigrant communities, including those of Lebanese, Palestinian, and Kurdish backgrounds, to stereotypes and discrimination, particularly following the rise of the right-wing German political party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), established in 2013. The so-called Arab clans, comprised of individuals from these communities who arrived during the initial asylum phase and settled in German cities, notably Berlin, have gained notoriety for their involvement in criminal activities such as prostitution, drug and arms trade, fraud, gold theft, and forgery.

After Turkish immigrants developed a vaccine against Covid-19, their remarkable achievement gained prominence in the German media. This recognition is particularly significant considering the Turkish community in Germany, one of the largest immigrant communities, has long faced discrimination and endured stereotypes. In contrast, other immigrant groups, such as the Arab community, have unfortunately been subjected to unfair stereotyping and have become the target of negative portrayals, often associated with Arab clans or gangs.27Ibid.

The media's focus on these Arab clans has contributed to the generalization and stereotyping of Lebanese individuals, limiting the perception of the community to negative aspects and perpetuating these views across subsequent generations. This discriminatory viewpoint is transmitted from one generation to the next.

5. Students and Artists: The Nucleus of New Migration

Lebanese migration to Germany continues to the present day, often facilitated by having relatives from the first generation already residing there. Tawfiq al-Dirani shared that six of his nephews recently arrived in Germany from Lebanon. "They completed their education, applied to universities here, and I secured sponsorship for them to come." Additionally, individuals from the second generation often marry in Lebanon and bring their spouses to Germany. This category represents the majority of Lebanese individuals in Germany.

In the past, during and after the civil war, a group of students who received scholarships to study various disciplines, including medicine, history, engineering, and the arts, also migrated. The Lebanese Communist Party and the Palestine Liberation Organization played a role in granting scholarships to some students due to political connections with East Germany at the time. German cultural institutions, including the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and cooperation agreements between German and Lebanese universities, played a crucial role in attracting students. Some of these exchange students returned to Lebanon after completing their studies, while others remained in Germany and entered the job market.

Furthermore, Berlin's transformation into a global hub for artists over the past two decades has enticed many Lebanese artists to visit and settle in the city.28Interview with Said Baalbaki, ibid. When Lebanese painter and sculptor Said Baalbaki arrived in Berlin in 2002 to pursue his artistic studies, there were only a few Lebanese artists in the city. Those proficient in English often chose the United States or Britain for further studies, while those fluent in French typically went to France.29Ibid. However, the number of Lebanese artists in Berlin gradually increased. "After every wave of war, artists who have experienced the conflict are drawn here due to the increased interest in their experiences."30Ibid. Lebanese artists, playwrights, musicians, cinematographers, and photographers come to Germany to participate in seminars, attend festivals, or through grants from cultural institutions. Some of them settle in Berlin, attracted by the lower real estate prices at the time, and their presence has brought attention to the city as a desirable destination for artistic opportunities and new ways of living.

The presence of Lebanese artists in Berlin multiplied after 2019 due to the economic collapse in Lebanon, exacerbated by the devastating explosion at the Beirut Port on 4 August 2020. Doctors, engineers, students, academic researchers, and individuals from the middle class have also migrated to Germany, constituting the new wave of Lebanese migration to the country.

6. Lebanese Political Mobilization in Germany

The Lebanese diaspora in Germany, much like in other countries, reflects the political landscape of the homeland. Most traditional Lebanese political parties have a presence in Germany, although not all of them have headquarters. These parties, such as the Future Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, and the Lebanese Forces, operate through licensed associations recognized by the German state. However, their influence is relatively weak. In the 2022 parliamentary elections, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party received 1% of the votes from Lebanese voters in Germany, while the Free Patriotic Movement received 2% and the Lebanese Forces received 4%.31Georgia Dagher, The Lebanese Diaspora and the Upcoming Elections: Lessons from the 2018 Voting, May 2022, Arab Reform Initiative, .

The two main and active political forces in the Lebanese community in Germany are Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. Hezbollah received 31% of the votes, while the Amal Movement received 26%.32Ibid. As previously mentioned, these political forces are present through social and educational associations, such as Al-Irshad, affiliated with Hezbollah, and Al-Balagh, affiliated with the Amal Movement. They also maintain affiliated mosques where prayers and Friday sermons are held, as well as religious centers, offices, and schools for teaching Arabic.

The Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (Al-Ahbash) represents the third significant political force in Germany. They operate a mosque, a bakery, and a restaurant in Berlin. In the 2022 parliamentary elections, this association received 2,511 votes from outside Lebanon, with approximately 15% of these votes coming from German-based voters, representing a notable portion of the total votes.33Ibid.

All political parties, through their associations, “engage in preserving social and religious customs, offering condolences, and commemorating religious occasions, ranging from Ashura to Christmas.”34Ali Maarouf, ibid. Two prominent annual events celebrated by the Lebanese community in Germany were Land Day in support of the Palestinian cause and the anniversary of the liberation of southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation in 2000.

However, the celebration of the liberation anniversary was canceled following the official announcement that Hezbollah would be added to the German government's list of terrorist organizations in April 2020, and all political activities related to Hezbollah were prohibited. The guidance center of the party was initially closed, but it was later allowed to reopen after a short period.35Tawfiq al-Dirani, ibid.

During the period of political division in Lebanon that followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri on 14 February 2005, and the subsequent wave of assassinations targeting opposition figures and journalists critical of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, modest vigils were organized in front of the Lebanese embassy in Berlin to denounce these crimes.36Ali Maarouf, ibid.

The largest Lebanese-Arab demonstration organized in Berlin took place during the July 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. Palestinian activists played a significant role in organizing the demonstration, drawing from their own experiences, with the participation of around 15,000 to 20,000 individuals.37Ibid.

Following the addition of Hezbollah to the terror list, there have been visible changes in the political scene in Germany. Displaying Hezbollah flags or pictures of its Secretary-General in public places and gatherings became prohibited. This shift allowed the Amal Movement, with its flags and slogans, to take center stage. This was evident during the recent parliamentary elections in 2022, where gatherings outside and inside the Lebanese embassy in Berlin exhibited an environment more reminiscent of Lebanon than Germany. Flags of the Amal Movement were prominently displayed, and members were seen sleeping on the ground.38Testimonies of people who went to vote at the Lebanese Embassy in Berlin on the day of the parliamentary elections. On that day, those who participated in the vote perceived that Berlin had truly transformed into "Chiyah" (a neighborhood in Beirut associated with the Amal Movement).

Despite the prevalence of Amal Movement flags and their dominant appearance, Hezbollah maintained the same percentage of votes in the parliamentary elections as it had received in 2018. However, the percentage of votes for the Amal Movement decreased from 42% in 2018 to 26% in 2022.39ARI, ibid.

In terms of opposition to the ruling Lebanese establishment, the percentage of votes for dissident candidates in the 2022 elections increased from 2% in 2018 to 14% in 2022 (1,135 votes).40Ibid. Although this percentage remains relatively low compared to other expatriate countries, it indicates the influence of the new wave of Lebanese arrivals after 2019 and the explosion of 4 August 2020, in raising the dissident vote.41Interview with Mai Shawi, teacher at the Lycee Française in Berlin, on January 18, 2022

In this context, it appears that the mobilization of Amal Movement members on election day and the chants launched were, in part, intended to send a message to the "new Lebanese" who participated in activities and gatherings in Berlin coinciding with the 17 October uprising in Lebanon. Some of these individuals arrived to vote in the recent elections, symbolizing their claim that Berlin belongs to them.42Interview with Amal Dib, a journalist and political activist based in Berlin, on February 7, 2023.

III. New Migration and Echoes of the 17 October Uprising

"Those who left in the aftermath of the economic crisis and the port explosion are individuals who possess the financial and cultural resources to seek opportunities in another country, establishing a new life or a parallel existence to their lives in Lebanon. This situation is disconcerting, as it further depletes the country of its valuable human capital and resources."43Said Baalbaki, ibid.

Following the economic crisis, a number of artists who were regular visitors to Berlin have chosen to relocate there permanently. The German state extends technical grants to support their residency in the city, to attract and retain this creative group.

In addition, cultural institutions in Germany welcome academic researchers as part of cultural exchange programs. Diana Abbani, a Lebanese researcher who has been residing in Berlin since 2017, highlights that she received a grant from the EUME research foundation, which allowed her to settle in Germany. She and her musician husband also opened a bar in Berlin. Abbani notes that typically, exchange scholars come to cultural institutions for 10 months and then return to their home countries. However, an increasing number of scholars now seek alternative scholarships or employment opportunities to extend their stay in Germany after their initial grant period ends.44Interview with Diana Abbani, researcher based in Berlin, on January 20, 2023.

In recent years, there has been a notable influx of students from Lebanon who have chosen to pursue their undergraduate or postgraduate studies in Germany. Furthermore, in 2021 alone, the German state issued 895 residence permits to Lebanese individuals arriving from Lebanon after obtaining work visas.45The database of the Federal Statistical Office: The majority of these recent Lebanese arrivals are medicine, healthcare, and engineering professionals.

"Many acquaintances are engineers who studied the first level of the German language in Lebanon. They applied for jobs in mechanical engineering, communications, and informatics companies and came to Germany," shared Mai Jouni, a resident of Berlin since 2021.46Interview with Mai Jouni, an employee of the Digital Hospital in Berlin, on 3 February 2023. May, who previously worked at the American University Hospital in Beirut and now works at the Digital Hospital in Berlin, highlights the experiences of these engineers who successfully transitioned to Germany in search of professional opportunities.

1. Old and New Migrants: Estrangement and Communication

"Those arriving now have nothing to do with the first generation that came during the civil war, nor with the generation that was born here. There is an environmental and cultural difference between the two, and a difference in lifestyle. Berlin allows this difference, and it is beautiful," expressed Diana Abbani. Reflecting on the distinct experiences of different Lebanese generations in Berlin, she emphasizes the city's ability to embrace diversity.

Continuing her thoughts, Diana Abbani remarked, "There is a sense when I go to the Arab Street Sonnenallee that someone came before me to this city, and somewhere facilitated my arrival here. I buy all my things here. When I long for certain flavors, for a certain atmosphere, I come here. Those who left Lebanon in the 1980s have preserved certain skills and certain ways of preparing food that have remained with them all these years. The kibbeh that is sold in a Lebanese shop on the street is still made in the same way that the people of the south used to make it 30 years ago, as the old flourishes in these shops."47Interview with Diana Abbani, ibid.

Sonnenallee, originally a Lebanese-Palestinian street, carried a familiar ambiance reminiscent of certain areas of Beirut, particularly its southern suburbs, with a blend of barbershops and sandwich shops. However, with the arrival of Syrian refugees in 2015, the street also saw the emergence of many Syrian restaurants and sweet shops, leading to tensions and clashes between the long-established refugees and the new arrivals in the city and its streets.

Although new Lebanese immigrants have virtually no relationship with the first generation, it seems that the stereotyped and discriminatory image generalized in the media haunts the Lebanese coming to Germany from any background:

Despite the disconnection between the new Lebanese immigrants and the first generation, it is evident that the stereotypical and discriminatory image perpetuated in the media continues to haunt Lebanese individuals coming to Germany from any background. Many face prejudiced assumptions and encounters such as being labeled as "gangs" or encountering surprise and skepticism due to their Christian faith or academic pursuits. Discrimination can even extend to difficulties in finding housing solely based on their Lebanese background.

Following the devastating Beirut Port explosion on 4 August 2020, solidarity with Lebanon formed among Germans, particularly those who sought to understand the specific situation and composition of the country. Efforts were made to draw attention to the crisis. “We organized sit-ins in front of the Lebanese embassy and the German Foreign Ministry, as well as issued press releases to the German media advocating against providing aid through Lebanese state institutions.”48Interview with Amal Dib, ibid.

With these actions, a phase of organized activities in Berlin in support of the Lebanese uprising that began on 17 October 2019 in Lebanon came to a close.

2. The October Uprising Echoes in Berlin

When Amal Dib, a Lebanese journalist and activist, arrived in Berlin in 2012 to work on her thesis about the memory of the civil war in Lebanon, she found herself surrounded by a community consisting mainly of Egyptians, Tunisians, and Palestinians who were driven by the issues, concerns, and hopes ignited by the Arab Spring at that time.

“It was only with the October Revolution that I became actively seeking out Lebanese people living in Berlin, feeling a sense of kinship with them. During this period, I formed friendships with Lebanese individuals including doctoral students, artists, researchers, and families, as 17 October is what brought people together.”49Ibid.

Spontaneous invitations to gather in Berlin started emerging individually, without prior coordination, as there were no organized independent groups apart from the traditional parties. “Permission to demonstrate would be obtained by one person, while another would create a WhatsApp group, someone else would publish a gathering invitation on Facebook, and others would write chants. These gatherings provided us an opportunity to connect, build networks, and establish stronger relationships with groups from Lebanon.”50Ibid.

The primary objective of these gatherings was to demonstrate solidarity with the protesters in Lebanon and let them know “they were not alone.” In the initial gatherings, there was a mixture of participants, including members of the older generation, such as "old communists," as well as members affiliated with the Amal Movement, Hezbollah, and the Future Movement. Newcomers to Germany, independent activists from leftist and feminist backgrounds, and Syrians residing in Berlin also joined the gatherings. The composition of the participants “resembled the diverse groups present at the start of the uprising in Lebanon,” said Khalil Fadel, an activist and photographer residing in Berlin since 2014.51Interview with Khalil Fadel, an activist and photographer based in Berlin since 2014, on April 27, 2023.

However, when the Secretary-General of Hezbollah accused the demonstrators of treason and creating chaos in his first speech after the uprising began, members associated with the two Shiite parties withdrew from the demonstrations and turned against the few participants in Berlin. The chants, which included insults directed at the entire political class, including Nabih Berri, were met with disapproval from the Amal Movement participants. This led to tensions and the demonization of the demonstrators, similar to what was happening in Beirut at the time.52Ibid.

According to Amal Dib, the presence of Syrians in the gatherings and the spirit of the Syrian revolution reflected in the chants further provoked members of the Amal Movement. Clashes ensued, and threats and intimidation were directed toward the other participants. Amal Dib herself experienced harassment when “a young man followed me and pursued me until I arrived home.”53Interview with Amal Dib, ibid.

These problems resulted in the withdrawal of some individuals from these political gatherings. Those who had left Lebanon and sought to escape such political differences found it challenging to reencounter similar experiences in a new country. In the early weeks of the uprising, there were discussions among some Lebanese in Berlin about establishing a politically active working group based on common agreed-upon foundations, despite existing differences. However, these discussions did not progress, as individuals focused on settling into their new lives in Germany.

Following the Beirut Port explosion, a prevailing sense of frustration, despondency, and a belief in the futility of political activities dominated.54Ibid. “Nevertheless, the WhatsApp and Facebook groups that emerged during this period to organize activities created a network of relationships and acquaintances that could potentially be revived in the future.”55Interview with khalil Fadel, ibid.

The 2022 parliamentary elections brought a renewed sense of enthusiasm among this group of Lebanese individuals in Germany, leading them to participate in the voting process whenever possible. The results demonstrated that the first generation still held significant influence as a dominant force. However, a new category of Lebanese voices is gradually emerging, alongside a growing collective of Lebanese, Egyptians, and Syrians who are preoccupied with common issues. 56Interview Diana Abbani, ibid.

IV. Conclusion

The formation of a new political framework for the Lebanese diaspora in Germany is still in its early stages. “The current environment is not conducive to the immediate establishment of a political group,”57Interview with Amal Dib, ibid. as newcomers require time to settle down and adjust to their new lives. The focus at this stage lies in nurturing the relationships that were forged during the 17 October 2019 uprising and fostering connections among Lebanese individuals with shared concerns. Coordination efforts extend not only to residents in various German cities but also to the wider Lebanese diaspora in Europe.58Ibid.

This study serves as a foundation for future research, which should include Lebanese residents outside of Berlin and explore different intriguing aspects of this migration. Potential areas of exploration could delve into the experiences of first-generation refugee women and examine the impact of immigration conditions on their lives. Furthermore, a deeper analysis of the second generation, both male and female, is warranted to understand their upbringing, lifestyle, and their connection with Germany, its language, and culture, as well as their relationship with Lebanon.

The presence of a significant number of Syrian refugees settling in the same neighborhoods as the Lebanese immigrants in Berlin raises important questions about the dynamics between these two Arab immigrant groups. Exploring the relationship between them carries political, social, and economic implications, making it a valuable area for further investigation.


1 With the exception of a doctoral dissertation titled "Refugees from Lebanon to Berlin: The Question of Integration of Ethnic Minorities," written in German by writer Ralph Ghadban focused specifically on Lebanese and Arab gangs in Germany.
3 Interview with Ali Marouf (Abu Hassan), an activist in Arab associations dealing with refugee affairs, in Berlin on January 18, 2023.
4 Interview with Tawfiq al-Dirani, a blacksmith, conducted in Berlin on January 20, 2023.
5 Interview with Ali Maarouf, ibid.
6 Interview with Marianne Samaha, migration researcher based in Berlin, conducted on February 27, 2023.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 The number of those who still hold this permit ranges between 5,000 and 6,000. They are people born in Germany to Lebanese, Palestinian and Kurdish parents who came from Lebanon and Turkey, according to Marianne Samaha.
11 Interview with Ali Maarouf, ibid.
12 There are no official published figures on the number of Lebanese who obtained German citizenship. However, according to a study published in German, 8,113 Lebanese men and women obtained German citizenship between 2015 and 2020.
13 Interview with Marianne Samaha, ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 Interview with Ali Maarouf, ibid.
18 Abdul Raouf Sinno,"Lebanese Asylum to Germany: Hesitation between Isolation and Integration" (Arabic), Nawafeth, 27 January 2002.
19 Ibid: "Clan affiliation appears clearly among the Kurds who came from Lebanon during the war."
20 Interview with Tawfiq al-Dirani, ibid.
21 Interview with Said Baalbaki, a Lebanese artist based in Berlin, conducted on January 19, 2023.
23 Ali Maarouf, ibid.
24 Tawfiq al-Dirani, ibid.
25 Ali Maarouf, ibid.
26 Ozgur Ozvatan, Bastian Neuhauser, Gokce Yurdakul, “The ‘Arab Clans’ Discourse: Narrating Racialization, Kinship, and Crime in the German Media”, Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research, 2023.
27 Ibid.
28 Interview with Said Baalbaki, ibid.
29 Ibid.
30 Ibid.
31 Georgia Dagher, The Lebanese Diaspora and the Upcoming Elections: Lessons from the 2018 Voting, May 2022, Arab Reform Initiative, .
32 Ibid.
33 Ibid.
34 Ali Maarouf, ibid.
35 Tawfiq al-Dirani, ibid.
36 Ali Maarouf, ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Testimonies of people who went to vote at the Lebanese Embassy in Berlin on the day of the parliamentary elections.
39 ARI, ibid.
40 Ibid.
41 Interview with Mai Shawi, teacher at the Lycee Française in Berlin, on January 18, 2022
42 Interview with Amal Dib, a journalist and political activist based in Berlin, on February 7, 2023.
43 Said Baalbaki, ibid.
44 Interview with Diana Abbani, researcher based in Berlin, on January 20, 2023.
45 The database of the Federal Statistical Office:
46 Interview with Mai Jouni, an employee of the Digital Hospital in Berlin, on 3 February 2023.
47 Interview with Diana Abbani, ibid.
48 Interview with Amal Dib, ibid.
49 Ibid.
50 Ibid.
51 Interview with Khalil Fadel, an activist and photographer based in Berlin since 2014, on April 27, 2023.
52 Ibid.
53 Interview with Amal Dib, ibid.
54 Ibid.
55 Interview with khalil Fadel, ibid.
56 Interview Diana Abbani, ibid.
57 Interview with Amal Dib, ibid.
58 Ibid.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.