Lebanese security forces have destroyed 20 refugee homes for breaking building regulations that refugees have to abide by. Aid organizations have said they expect further demolitions to follow.
Lebanese military units destroyed at least 20 refugee homes in Arsal in the northeast of the country on June 1, with aid groups warning that up to 3,000 more such demolitions could follow after the expiry of a government ultimatum, potentially affecting up to 15,000 people – half of whom are assumed to be children.
A security source told Reuters that the military has been carrying out checks to make sure that refugee dwellings were in line with existing regulations. A Lebanese security source meanwhile told AFP that the demolitions served "as a warning for remaining refugees who have yet to comply with the army's decision" to enforce Lebanon's building codes.
Refugees affected by the decision against their structures had been served an ultimatum in April, giving them several weeks to destroy the buildings themselves before the military ultimately decided to intervene.
No 'permanent' refugees wanted
Lebanon only allows informal refugee camps to prevent the permanent settlements of Syrian refugees, who politicians and part of the Lebanese population blame for a string of economic woes in the country. Some Lebanese citizens have said they fear that allowing the refugees to remain in permanent settlements and structures might result in the lasting settlement of Syrian refugees in their tiny country. A number of Lebanese politicians have meanwhile repeatedly called for the return of refugees to Syria after fighting ended in many parts of the country over the past few years.
This is why many Syrian refugees have been living in small huts inside the country's informal refugee camps, often pushing the boundaries of what is considered legally permissible in Lebanon. Dwellings made of concrete are deemed to break certain rules against erecting permanent or semi-permanent structures. However, materials like timber and plastic sheeting are considered legal.
Syrian representatives of the camps have tried to negotiate a solution that would both address the Lebanese concerns and ensure that refugees can live in suitable accommodation. A new agreement stipulates that cement roofs and walls are to be demolished and floors must be raised a meter above ground, to ensure residents are protected from reptiles and insects in the summer, and from snow and rain in the winter.
In recent months, however, Lebanon has been hardening the enforcement of such specific laws governing the roughly 1 million Syrian refugees in the country, who constitute roughly a quarter of the country's population now. Rights groups such as Amnesty International have warned that Lebanon is using increasingly restrictive measures such as evictions, curfews and raids to encourage the repatriation of Syrian refugees - and now the demolition of their homes.
Outrage among aid groups
A number of aid organizations have meanwhile voiced concerns about the demolitions. A group of aid comprised of Save the Children, Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement that "depriving refugees of their already very basic shelter and leaving them out on the streets is not a solution."
"The demolitions in Arsal come in the context of deteriorating conditions for Syrian refugees, who in the past months have faced an increasingly coercive environment making their lives even harder," the statement further read. They also urged authorities "to give alternatives to refugees, allow them to retain their personal belongings and give them more time to place their families in safety" before carrying out more demolitions.
"We fear that this is the start and more demolitions will take place tomorrow."