SIDON, Lebanon: Five Syrian refugee families were forced Tuesday to take down tents they had pitched on land owned by the Litani River Authority, in the latest chapter of an ongoing campaign by the LRA to remove encroachments on its property.
The campaign, which it has said focuses on combating pollution, has targeted municipalities and factories, and has increasingly turned toward refugee communities.
Since April 2018, the LRA has issued over 200 violation notices to factories and municipalities around the Litani River basin. In more recent months, several large-scale evictions of refugees have taken place, including the expulsion of 300 people from the Sidon area on April 1.
Those forced to leave Tuesday found shelter among other refugees living in tents farther away from the river, near the southern town of Sarafand. The families living in the tents were notified of their imminent removal Monday, giving them little time to find alternative housing, according to a man named Nouhad, who was not one of those expelled but who provided lodging to them. Nouhad told The Daily Star that he would rather take in the families than see them on the streets.
A family of six settled in the corner of the dwelling of another Syrian refugee, Ali, which was made out of an agricultural tent. The family members residing there said they had been displaced from the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin.
Fidan Hamkar, who has a young child with special needs, told The Daily Star she required milk powder to be able to provide the minimum care required for her child. The family claimed to have called the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, for help, but said no one had answered the plea.
“UNHCR has visited the affected families to determine their needs and in order to follow up with any support that can be provided, including shelter and other support as needed,” a spokesperson for the agency later told The Daily Star.
Mohammad, an 18-year-old refugee, said that the increasing pressure on refugees to deconstruct their tents was clearly intended as pressure to leave Lebanon.
He noted recent events in the Baalbeck town of Deir al-Ahmar, where hundreds of refugees fled a camp last week amid bubbling tensions with the local population following an incident there.
“In Deir al-Ahmar, tents were burned, and in other areas they ask for our deportation, and here refugee settlement after refugee settlement is being vacated,” he said.
He said their homes in Syria had been demolished, and few opportunities existed for them back home. In Lebanon, they subsist by working in agriculture. - Writing by Lea Akil
This article was amended on Thursday, June 13 2019
This article has been updated to include a statement from UNHCR.