Wed 19 Jun 2019

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Syrian Refugee Tents Twisting in Winds of “Racism”

A Syrian child refugee sitting in front of his family’s tent, which water has drowned in the al-Dalhamiyya Camp, eastern Lebanon – January 15, 2019 (UNHCR)

A Syrian child refugee sitting in front of his family’s tent, which water has drowned in the al-Dalhamiyya Camp, eastern Lebanon – January 15, 2019 (UNHCR)

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Near the Deir el-Ahmar village in the Lebanese governorate of Beqaa, fires fed on the Syrian refugees’ tents and their residents left the shelter incubating them to the embrace of other camps in a new wave of displacement effected by revenge-based violence. While some Lebanese managed to find justifications for these acts, others listed them as part of the racial series of acts practiced against Syrians in Lebanon.

The incident that triggered a wide controversy in Lebanon is considered a new development in a series of restrictions imposed on Syrians, particularly in the shadow of harassments relating to accusing the named camp’s residents of possessing weapons, which turned into a justification for committing acts of violence and incitement against refugees through social networking sites.

The incident corresponded to the implementation of the decision that provided for demolishing cement tents, set up in the Syrian refugees’ compounds in the town of Aarsal, on the borders with Syria, in reaction to the town people’s fear of “settlement intentions,” through which the refugees are to impose themselves on the area as fait accompli, amidst governmental and popular Lebanese calls for sending Syrians to their country.

Refugees Displaced and Tents Set on Fire

The Caritas Camp incident, located at the entrance to the Deir el-Ahmar village, started on Thursday, June 5, with a fire breaking out in a hill beside the camp and close to a checkpoint of the Lebanese Army, according to the Lebanon based Syrian journalist Ahmad al-Qaseer.

“Following the fire, the Civil Defense was contacted as to contain it. However, the fire engines were late, and the fire almost reached the tents, which triggered the refugees and the army to put it out [themselves]. When the Civil Defense vehicle arrived in, the driver and refugees, who protested the delay, tongue-lashed,” al-Qaseer told Enab Baladi.

The wrangle developed after the driver answered abusively and quickly drove his vehicle away, al-Qaseer pointed out, stressing that the fire engine ran over two tents, due to which people protested and shouted that there are children in these tents. The owners of the two tents and a few other refugees have also beat the driver.

Following the incident, the General Directorate of the Lebanese Civil Defense condemned the assault on the fire engine and those who were boarding it, as posted on its official Twitter account.

For its part, the Lebanon Debate quoted a Civil Defense worker, who said that he and another colleague were injured, in addition to the shattered glass of their vehicle.

On his Facebook page, Bachir Khodr, the Governor of Hermel, announced a curfew on Syrians in the Deir el-Ahmar village until the morning of June 6, while the camp’s people were evacuating their tents.

According to what the journalist has recounted to Enab Baladi, the residents of the camp, now closed, are distributed on a few other camps, and estimated their numbers as about 150 families, consisting of 500 to 600 persons.

The Deir el-Ahmar Union of Municipalities issued a decision providing for the ultimate closure of the camp and prevention of the refugees’ return to it, according to a statement it posted onto its official page on Facebook, “keen on safety and to avoid any clashes.”

The Lebanese Military Intelligence has also arrested 33 Syrians of those who beat the tow Civil Defense workers, as posted on the Facebook page of the governor of Hermel.

Some of the village’s people set on fire a part of the tents at Caritas camp, as to prevent Syrians from coming back, which several pages on social networking sites documented.

 “Unjustified” Reaction

The flames continued to consume the Caritas tents for days after the evacuation of its population, as reported by pages on Facebook.  In addition to this, a number of the village’s people ignited the social networking sites with “racial” comments demanding that refugees never be brought back to the area.

A division of the Deir el-Ahmar’s residents attributed this to “the armament of the Syrian people who were in the camp,” for the Lebanon Debate has cited one of the Civil Defense staffers, who got injured in the incident, as saying that he witnessed two persons carrying two machine guns and other weapons.

This has been exploited by sides of a higher profile as a justification for the evacuation of the camp, for the Lebanese Al-Joumhouria, quoted Bishop Hanna Rahme, the Maronite Eparchy of Baalbek-Deir El Ahmar, as saying: “The people in the camp, young men in particular, master using weapons, because they have been trained previously in the Syrian army.”

For his part, Nasser Yassin, the Director of the American University of Beirut-affiliated Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, related the popular outrage against the camp’s people to the “atmosphere of pressure on Syrians in Lebanon due to the media campaigns, the politicians’ statements and the current procedures and restriction.”

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Yassin added: “What happened in Deir el-Ahmar is an individual incident. But it is clear it has assumed significant proportions, for it could have been resolved immediately. The vehicle of the Civil Defense might have rushed in and there might be a reaction charged with anger, which the refugees should not have made; however, the reaction on the part of Deir el-Ahmar against all the camp’s people was unjustifiable.”

Yassin described the incident as “a group punishment through expelling the refugees and burning their tents,” attributing the responsibility to “officials in the government who are feeding up the  dispute and are not trying to set up solutions that respect the refugees, and the huge needs of the host community at the same time.”

 

Tents Are Targeted

The cause of setting the tents of the Deir el-Ahmar camp on fire corresponds to the imposition of demolishing the cement tents in the random camps in Arasal, which thrusts the camps of Syrian refugees into the eye of the restrictions’ storm.

In Lebanon, the number of random camps’ residents has reached 200 thousand Syrian refugees, which Nasser Yassin, the Director of Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, confirmed to Enab Baladi in a former interview.

Arasal camps, which amounted to 850, according to the estimates of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are facing a decision of demolishing hundreds of cement tents, which the refugees have built to better their housing conditions.

On June 10, the duration defined by the Lebanese Army for the deconstruction of these tents, distributed on 26 camps, ends, for the cement rooftops and walls constructed illegally must be brought down, as cited by the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on May 22.

This undertaking has triggered the concern of several international organization, including Save The Children and World Vision, which issued a statement on June 4, calling the Lebanese authorities to refrain from implementing the decision providing for demolishing the Syrian refugee camps in Arasal, warning against an unknown fate to await thousands of children in these camps.

In return, this calls failed to stop the implementation of the decision, at a time where the governmental pressure keeps pushing for returning Syrians, whose number is about two million according to the UN’s estimations, to Syria, an action supported by several decisions and popular calls that insist on the continuity of restrictions on Syrians.

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