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Atlas of Lebanon

Part 2 - Population and migration

Internal Migration and Spatial Change

Éric Verdeil

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1Far from having a static distribution, the population in Lebanon has experienced major movements of internal migration, related to specific contexts, the most prominent being the Civil War, and medium-term trends.

2It is estimated that two thirds of the Lebanese changed places of residence between 1975 and 1990 and that one third did not come back at the end of the war. Forced displacements, caused by a climate of insecurity, eviction efforts and sometimes massacres, resulted in a sectarian homogenization of the territory, more or less severe depending on the regions. A map, produced by Saint Joseph University and Laval University in 1987, shows the main flows at that time. During the first phase of the war, major population movements were registered within the capital city, especially in 1976 when the poor mostly Muslim neighborhoods, including the Palestinian camps located in East Beirut, were besieged and emptied of their population by Christian militias. In retaliation, several groups massacred Christian inhabitants in some areas, including the PLO forces in Damour, provoking further movements. Starting in 1978, several waves of refugees fleeing the Israeli advance in the South arrived in the capital and its suburbs, especially the southern one. Starting in 1984, the anarchy in West Beirut further aggravated the situation of the Christian residents still living there, who had constituted about half of the population before the war. Their flight toward the northern and eastern suburbs accounts for much of the growth of these areas, especially in large subdivisions.

3This sectarian homogenization translated into new territorialities: daily movements were very limited and the spaces of everyday life reduced to routes linking residences to workplaces and schools. The resulting partitioning was still very much pervasive at the beginning of the 1990s: an analysis of daily movements produced in 1994 shows the persistent cleavage between East and West Beirut. As the work market became increasingly integrated, these spatial divides became less noticeable. However, residential mobility is still very much linked to a sectarian geography.

Figure II-4: Forced displacements (1975-1987) and sectarian polarization

Figure II-4: Forced displacements (1975-1987) and sectarian polarization

4These context-specific movements interplay with long-term trends such as rural exodus. Data on internal migration is scarce but a localized comparison between the number of residents and registered voters offers a reflection of major departure areas and new residential locations (once age structure is adjusted). The areas benefiting from internal migrations are mostly the urban ones, located along the coast or in the inland regions. Conversely, mountains and rural areas display population decline. Despite having been a receptacle of rural to urban migration for over a century, Beirut appears among the deficit areas because of two factors. The population registered in the capital city is composed of several communities for which emigration is a frequent choice, like the Armenian, Protestant and Jewish communities. Second, the city of Beirut has been experiencing population decline since the 1970s because of a decreasing average household size and of departures to the suburbs, including during the Civil War. Figures provided by the Central Administration of Statistics reveal a noticeable increase in population between 1970 and 1997 in the peripheral regions, the North, South and Nabatieh, and the Bekaa Valley. This might be explained by a fertility rate that is higher than in Beirut and the Mount Lebanon area, but also by intraregional redistribution during the war and the growth of middle-size provincial cities.

Figure II-5: Resident population and registered voters

Figure II-5: Resident population and registered voters

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2019

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