Thousands of Syrian refugees in a remote, mountainous region of northwest Lebanon have been ordered to demolish their homes by 1 July on the grounds that they are “illegal”, France 24 has reported.
Up to 25,000 Syrian refugees in the city of Arsal, which is not far from Syria, could be affected. Amidst fears that up to 15,000 children are at risk of homelessness, rights groups have called on the government not to go ahead with the plan.
The move comes as Lebanese authorities move to enforce a ban on the construction of “permanent” houses in refugee camps it fears will become permanent settlements.
The families will be moved into temporary accommodation made of plastic shelters which families fear could be deadly, particularly during Lebanon’s freezing winters and hot summers, which regularly top 45 degrees.
The government has ordered that all refugee shelters constructed with materials other than timber and plastic sheeting must be demolished.
Head of the Arsal municipality Bassel Hojeiry told ABC News that “[The Lebanese authorities] put pressure on the Syrians so that they don’t think of settling in Lebanon.”
“And it’s also to push forward for a resettlement of Syrians in Syria, in Europe and somewhere else.”
Around 1.5 million Syrian refugees now live in Lebanon, which has a population of six million, yet 74 per cent of them lack legal status.
Amnesty International have brought attention to systematic policies used by the Lebanese authorities to push them out, including raids, curfews, and the deportation of registered refugees designed to make life unbearable.
Lebanese politicians have called on Syrian refugees to go home, blaming them for economic problems in the country.
Earlier in the week former member of the Tigers Militia Naji Hayek reiterated these calls on the grounds that they are exploiting Lebanon and warned they would destroy Lebanon in the way that Palestinians did.
Lebanese Activist Naji Hayek: The Syrian Refugees Will Destroy Lebanon Like the Palestinians Did; They Should Return to Syria Instead of Exploiting Us pic.twitter.com/5FK6zwlym1
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) June 12, 2019
This echoes hostility across the region seen most recently in Egypt, when Egyptian lawyer Samir Sabry called for the establishment of new laws to survey Syrian business owners and prosecute the financing of “terrorism” and “hostility”.
There are around 130,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt, though they do not live in camps.
Return is not an option for many, who fear torture and persecution in Syria. Forcing them out puts Lebanese authorities in breach of their obligation to not return refugees to a place they are at risk of persecution.
Over three million Syrians living in Idlib have suffered a ground and air assault for over a month, which has destroyed hospitals, schools, and has sparked a new wave of refugees to leave the country.
Over 600,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011 and more than half of the country’s population displaced.