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27 Jun 2019 20:35
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  •   Home > News > International

    Lebanese Government forces Syrian refugees to demolish brick homes and live in plastic tents

    Refugees who fled to Lebanon from the ongoing war in Syria are being forced to demolish their modest homes and live in tents as the Lebanese Government pushes for resettlement in Europe.

    Inside the only house still standing in Al Nour's "B" street, a Syrian grandmother rubs tears from her eyes.

    "We came here eight years ago," says Zouhair Amar, one of about 300 people who live in this refugee camp on a treeless, rocky hillside.

    "We first stayed in tents, then they moved us here to a house, and now they want to destroy them, as you can see."

    As we speak, an aid worker comes to her door to remind Zouhair that her home will be demolished the following day.

    "This is what God has decided," she says, crying quietly.

    Here on the outskirts of Aarsal in north-east Lebanon, authorities are enforcing a rule that bans the construction of "permanent" dwellings in refugee camps.

    Hundreds of homes built of concrete blocks must be torn down and the families who've lived in them for years must move into temporary accommodation, which are plastic shelters braced by flimsy wooden frames.

    Life here is tough all year round. It's freezing in winter and summer temperatures can rise above 45 degrees. It's no place to live in a tent.

    "It is safer in a house during the rains," Zouhair says.

    "It's safer for the children and much safer for us elderly people as we cannot live in the rain and the snow."

    Lebanon is enforcing the rule because it doesn't want these refugee camps to turn into permanent settlements.

    This nation of 6 million people is straining under the weight of more than 1 million Syrian refugees.

    "The real reason behind all this is to forbid settlement," says Bassel Hojeiry, the head of the Arsal municipality.

    He's the local government representative with the thankless task of keeping the area's 70,000 refugees informed about government decisions.

    "[The Lebanese authorities] put pressure on the Syrians so that they don't think of settling in Lebanon," he says.

    "And it's also to push forward for a resettlement of Syrians in Syria, in Europe and somewhere else."

    He said it's putting a lot of strain on the refugees.

    Last week an entire camp of 700 people in a neighbouring district was evicted after tensions boiled over into violence.

    Mr Hojeiry said a policy of gradually increasing pressure on the refugees "could lead to despair".

    "If they're desperate they could kill themselves and kill others," he warns.

    Even if they wanted to, many of the residents of Al Nour can't go back to Syria.

    The civil war continues in the country's north and the United Nations refugee agency says it is still too dangerous for an organised return.

    Anyone who does go back must register and be approved in advance by the Assad regime.

    "We hope to return," says 50-year-old Abdo Kanaan, as he takes a break from knocking down the house he and his family have lived in for the past five years.

    "As soon as they open up registration we want to return. But we need a safe region to go back to.

    "If they allow us to return, we want to return. If we can register, we'd be the first to go back to our country."

    Kanaan's eight children are living in neighbours' tents while he demolishes the house.

    "We have no shelter, there is not even a tree to go under. If the neighbours hadn't helped us it would have been tragic. They accommodate us," he says.

    Staring at the wreckage of the demolished homes of "B" street, Kanaan says this camp is starting to resemble their ruined homeland.

    "It was destroyed there and now here we are destroying. It's always the same, it doesn't change. This is becoming normal," he says.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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