Syrian Hashish Harvest Workers Stranded in Lebanon

We noted a year ago that ISIS was burning the cannabis fields in its areas of control in Syria (even as reports mount that the entire "Islamic State" army is hyped up on speed). In Lebanon's hashish heartland of the Bekaa Valley, meanwhile, cannabis growers have been arming to defend their turf, crops and livelihood in case ISIS invades.

Now, both Reuters and National Public Radio have run reports over the past week on the plight of season migrant laborers who come from Syria to the Bekaa to help harvest cannabis and produce hashish—activities just winding down now. But those who have come this year from the Syrian province of Raqqa cannot return home. Raqqa is now controlled by ISIS, its eponymous provinicial capital the de facto capital of the "Islamic State." And if word got out that these migrant laborers had worked in the hashish industry, they'd be marked for death.

Writes Reuters: "Wearing scarves over their faces to protect them from the crop, the women and their relatives work in fields of the sticky green, spiky-leafed plants. It is a job that migrant workers from neighboring Syria have done for many years, spending a few months a year in the region before returning home. Since the rise of Islamic State, it is now a task that could put them, and their family back in Syria, at risk of harm including death…" A teenaged laborer named only as Aisha said, "If Islamic State back home knew we work with hashish, they would cut us" with knives.

Most of the migrants have a small plot back home in Raqqa, where they've traditionally grown cotton and other legal crops. But now the markets have been cut off by the war—making them more dependent on seasonal work in the Bekaa. "Any job in Lebanon makes you $700 per month, but working with drugs can get you $10,000 a day,” said Sharif, a Bekaa landowner and cannabis grower. 

A bitter irony is that these migrants—now perhaps permanently displaced—face discrimination in Lebanon because they come from Raqqa. Locals stigmatize them as "Daesh"—the popular Arabic pejorative for ISIS, the very oppressor they are fleeing. Talk about getting it from both sides.

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