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Lebanon Evicted Syrians From A Refugee Camp; They Refused To Go

Syrian refugees live in makeshift shelters in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, just a few miles west of the Syrian border.
Jason Beaubien
Syrian refugees live in makeshift shelters in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, just a few miles west of the Syrian border.

The Syrian refugee crisis is getting worse by the day.

Not only are more refugees fleeing into Lebanon, but aid to those who have already arrived is being cut dramatically.

The United Nations World Food Program earlier this month slashed the monthly food subsidy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon to just $13.50 per person. Less than a year ago the figure was $30 per person per month. The reason for the decision was reportedly a budget shortfall.

In addition, tensions are growing between Lebanese and the swelling number of displaced Syrians. Lebanon is a tiny country of just over 4 million, a narrow strip of land between southern Syria and the sea. By some estimates, it now hosts 2 million refugees. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has registered nearly 1.2 million Syrian refugees; activists say hundreds of thousands more have also fled to Lebanon.

They're living in what the Lebanese authorities call "informal tented settlements." The authorities refuse to call the settlements "camps" out of concern that they could become long-term fixtures like Palestinian refugee camps.

The refugees in these "settlements" can't get work permits. Desperate to feed their families, many of them find work anyway, squeezing locals out of jobs.

That's just one reason for the rising tensions. In the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, officials last week gave the roughly 500 residents of the Abu Yasser refugee settlement 24 hours to pack up and leave.

Abu Yasser is a makeshift settlement of 80 shacks. Each family lives in a structure cobbled together out of nylon tarps, plastic sheeting and mismatched planks.

The reason for the eviction notice: The locals were complaining about the noise, water consumption and filth from the camp. They say the refugees are depleting the water supply and polluting the fields. Open ditches filled with fetid water run between the shacks.

Despite the eviction order, the refugees refused to decamp.

"We don't have anyplace to go," says Khalid Nhaitar, a father of 11. "So we decided to tell them [the municipal authorities] just find another place for us."

Refugees from the settlement won at least a temporary reprieve after meeting with officials from the municipality.

But the incident underscores the growing strain that the huge numbers of Syrian refugees put on Lebanon's already strained resources.

"Initially, the Lebanese were very welcoming in how they received these people. Now, of course, that's changing," says Marc-Andre Hensel, the integrated programs director with World Vision's Lebanon office in Beirut.

"I think we need to be realistic about what we expect a country like Lebanon to do," Hensel adds. "I think long-term other countries need to take those people on. You can't expect Lebanon to host all those people for such a long time. It's far too easy to point fingers. It's a very complex problem and depending on how things develop in Syria, it could get worse."

Fighting continues to rage in various parts of Syria. While the battles continue, refugees say there is no way they can safely go home. So there is no end in sight to Lebanon's refugee problem.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Beginning in October 2015, Arun Rath assumed a new role as a shared correspondent for NPR and Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH News. He is based in the WGBH newsroom and his time is divided between filing national stories for NPR and local stories for WGBH News.
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.