Ahmad Zakaria- Horrya Press:
Syrian refugees living in the Lebanese camps of Arsal face a new kind of pressure, what increases the suffering they endure day-by-day.
Once stressing-causing raids and random arrests launched by the Lebanese army against women and young people came to an end few days ago, the owners of the camp lands started notifying the residents of paying extra rents comparing to last year, within a period of no more than 20 days at the risk of expulsion.
The rents of the camp lands range from 3000$ to 10000$ every year, depending on the area and number of tents.
This was a heavy psychological burden on the residents of these camps because they do not have a living, in the absence of job opportunities duo to security pressure by the Lebanese army and parties affiliated to the militia of “Hezbollah”.
Landowners Threaten and Humanitarian Organizations Absent
Arsal Camps house about 80000 Syrian refugees forced by the war conditions in Syria to flee and resort to these camps, amid the lack of basic elements of life.
“Arsal Camp Gathering contains about 120 camps, so residents not paying rents are expelled, no matter what the consequences are,” Muhammed Al-Abdullah, humanitarian activist, reported to Hurrya Press from Arsal.
In addition, he said that there are no reasons for the pressures applied on the Syrian refugees, The whole matter lies in the landlords’ desire to raise the rent, or demand the payment agreed on in the contract.
“The smallest camp contains about 60 tents, while the rent of the camp land is up to 3000$ annually; where there are no humanitarian actors, public officers, or organizations taking care of this matter,” added Al-Abdullah.
Previously, according to Mr. AlAbullah, UNHCR and other associations and bodies were contacted, regarding supporting the camps and taking care of the rents. However, the answer was always that this does not fall into humanitarian aids, referring at the same time to Arab donors who provide individual assistance, which is not sufficient.
Furthermore, he warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, should the refugees have been expelled from these camps, hoping that one would intervene to save the evicted.
Syrian Refugees in Arsal in Extreme Poverty
According to sources in Arsal camps, most of the Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty. Despite the UN food ticket which is worth only 27$ monthly, it is not enough to buy food, pay rent or pay water and electricity bills.
What makes things worse, UNHCR has removed thousands of families from food assistance and winter aid regulations, arguing that it does not receive substantial support to aid the Syrian refugees living and registered in the Lebanese Territory.
Bassam Ammar, director of Al Salam camp in Arsal, complained of the poor humanitarian conditions in the camp, which are compounded by threats of expulsion from the camp, should the rents have not been paid within 20 days.
He added: ” The owner of the land is asking us to pay 13000$, what is 3000 extra comparing to last year. He threatened to expel us unless we pay the required amount. However, we are suffering from extreme poverty, while no one responded to our appeals.”
Al Salam 2 camp shelters about 99 families dependent on UNHCR’s 27$ ticket which is not enough to buy food, according to the camp director who also stated that UNHCR is not able to aid the Syrian refugees and pay them the rents.
Moreover, the director complained of disease prevalence, medicine high prices, and catastrophic medical condition, referring to the parents need to send their children to collect “old scrap and plastic” from garbage dumps in order to sell them and secure a living.
Warnings of Mass Evacuations
The political activist, Rashwan Salloum, expressed his concern about pressures on the Syrian refugee and the expulsion from the camps in case twice the rents have not been paid, which is beyond their abilities.
“There is something unnatural going on behind the scenes. We have no idea whether there are political reasons behind these demands and threats, or it is due to parties that put pressure on the landlords, or to the greed of the landlords themselves.
Salloum explained that as the annual rental contracts with camp residents were to end, some of the landlords, began to harass and threaten the refugees with eviction unless they pay the rent, and also demanded a raise. A family that used previously to pay about 15$ to 20$ has to pay the double now.
He wondered about the place people can go to in the absence of financial resources, especially after the UN has cut off aid to about 8,000 families, while the beneficiaries of the program cannot afford the rents or pay water and electricity bills.
“The landlords get thousands of dollars through the annual rents paid by Syrian refugees,” added Salloum. ” The situation in Arsal camps is tragic, and residents are living in worn tents; not to mention the difficulty of securing heating materials, especially the fuel oil, amid the widespread of unemployment and the lack of job opportunities.”
According to Salloum, despite these harsh conditions, these incidents are neither the first nor the last in places as Al-Salam 2 Camp in Zarub Al-Arnab, and Al-Sanabel Camp in Jammala, Al-Jafr Road.
Salloum warned of mass evictions under the pretext of non-payment or increase of rents. He said: “Most of the individual cases of those who cannot afford the rent can go to their relatives in other places, but the primal fear is of mass expulsions, which will result in a humanitarian disaster. The United Nations must work to move the refugees to a large territory, oversees and supports, to end the crisis that so far affects the lives of refugees.