Lebanon: Syrians homeless after demolition of al-Waha camp

A Syrian refugee girl in an informal camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - November 12, 2022 (Reuters)

A Syrian refugee girl in an informal camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - November 12, 2022 (Reuters)


“I did what was asked of me and left the (al-Waha) camp to remain homeless with my family of 15 in a room within a stone factory that was granted to us for a few days only,” described Syrian refugee Mohammed, who had been residing in the camp since 2012, about the state of his family after Lebanese security forces demolished his tent on May 20th.

The man in his sixties described his financial situation as “below zero” during his conversation with Enab Baladi, as he has not worked for more than a year, ever since the owner of the agricultural nursery where he worked with 15 other Syrians terminated their employment.

The presence of Syrians in Lebanon has become more complicated in recent months, following the call by the caretaker Lebanese Interior Minister, Bassam Mawlawi, to limit their presence in Lebanon, emphasizing the need to strictly apply Lebanese laws to Syrian refugees.

The minister confirmed that the issue of Syrian presence “in this manner is unacceptable” and that Lebanon cannot bear it.

During an exceptional meeting of the Lebanese Central Security Council, Mawlawi stated that the percentage of detained Syrians in Lebanese prisons reached nearly 35%, according to Lebanese media, including MTV channel, and it should be clearly reduced, adding that Lebanon will not accept having Syrians on its soil in exchange for financial gains.

On May 20th, Lebanese authorities demolished the al-Waha camp, which houses more than 1,500 Syrian refugees in the Koura area of the North governorate, following a warning given to the residents to vacate.

Previous warning

Lebanese authorities warned families to vacate the camp on May 13th to execute the demolition process.

However, Mohammed, the sixty-something-year-old who left the camp, remained with his family without shelter or permanent housing. The room inside the factory in the city of Tripoli is not large enough for all family members and belongs to his Syrian relatives who warned the family to find a solution as soon as possible.

Mohammed’s inability to renew his official papers due to being out of work hindered the family’s movement, especially with the recent campaign against Syrians and the spread of Lebanese security forces checking people’s documents.

Fadi Karam, a member of the Strong Republic bloc (the largest bloc in the Lebanese Parliament), considered that “the Syrian in the camps has become ammunition for all kinds of gangs,” confirming Lebanon’s continued removal of all “illegal” gatherings in the Koura area and deporting Syrians according to “the law and not in a racist or sectarian manner.”

Karam added, in a statement reported by the National News Agency (Lebanon’s official news agency) on May 21st, that Lebanon started with the al-Waha camp because it is “the most dangerous” in the area, while other camps slated for demolition will be announced soon.

Under government supervision

The agency detailed the demolition of the camp, stating that North Governor Ramzi Nahra supervised the process. The governor confirmed the continued implementation of the circulars from the Minister of Interior and Municipalities in al-Koura, Batroun, Zgharta, Tripoli, and all northern regions, asking municipalities to take decisions in this regard.

Lebanese state security stated in a release published on May 20th that the town of al-Kouba in northern Lebanon is now free of Syrians after orders for evacuation were issued to the residents, resulting in “100% compliance without any incidents,” while the security campaign continues, as reported by the National News Agency (NNA).

UN demand

The representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon, Ivo Freijsen, called for intervention to stop what he described as mass evictions of Syrian refugees, accusing Lebanese authorities of carrying them out forcibly, according to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper citing sources from the Ministry of Interior (unnamed).

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces party, in a statement, condemned the UNHCR representative in Lebanon to the Minister of Interior, accusing him of overstepping his boundaries and not respecting Lebanon’s sovereignty and decision-making.

The head of the security campaign to repatriate Syrian refugees, Maroun Khoury, also called on the Minister of Interior to take all legal procedures against the representative, after “crossing legal boundaries including distributing asylum cards unlawfully” and treating “illegal immigrants” as if they were refugees, according to the agency.

Security campaign

The murder of the coordinator of the Lebanese Forces party, Pascal Suleiman, on April 8th intensified calls for the deportation of Syrians, as Lebanese authorities accused Syrians of involvement in the crime.

The Lebanese army announced that it had arrested most members of a “Syrian gang” accused of killing Suleiman after kidnapping him and transporting his body to Syria to steal his car.

On May 14th, Lebanese authorities resumed the organization of what they called “voluntary return” for about 330 Syrian refugees through two border crossings in Arsal and al-Qaa, after a hiatus of about a year and a half, according to the Lebanese National News Agency.

Initial plans for more convoys include about 2,500 Syrian refugees, according to new lists submitted to the Lebanese General Security and forwarded to the Syrian National Security Office for follow-up.

As part of the security campaign, the National Security Division in Mount Lebanon closed 270 stores and businesses owned and managed by Syrians.

Human rights organizations

The events against Syrians in Lebanon prompted human rights organizations to intervene. Seven human rights organizations issued a joint statement on May 16th, calling on Lebanon to immediately stop the forced deportation of Syrian refugees and roll back a series of stringent and unprecedented measures announced on May 8th.

The organizations also asked donor countries to urge Lebanon to adhere to the principle of “non-refoulement” and ensure that no aid provided is used to facilitate “arbitrary” deportations.

The statement was signed by Amnesty International, the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), Refugees International (RI), PAX, and 11.11.11.

In 2023, the Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) reported 1,080 cases of “arbitrary” detention in Syria, with 763 forcibly deported back to Syria, while it was difficult to trace 120 individuals immediately after their entry into Syrian territory.

The number of Syrian refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon is approximately 780,000.



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