Read caption Refugees homes demolished in Arsal, 1st of July, 2019 Photo: NRC Lebanon

Calling on Lebanese Authorities to Stop the Demolition of Refugees’ Homes

Published 09. Aug 2019
Joint statement by the Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum (LHIF), of which NRC is a member.

On 8 August personnel from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) partially demolished over 350 refugees’ homes in four tented settlement in Akkar, in northern Lebanon, using sledgehammers.

The Lebanese Armed Forces raided over 30 refugee settlements at dawn in northern Lebanon on Thursday, and at least five more raids were conducted on Friday. Tents were demolished on the grounds that the structures were not compliant with a recent order from Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council that all non-temporary structures be dismantled or face demolition.

In addition, the LAF arrested 47 people on Thursday, including one minor, on the grounds that they do not have valid legal residency papers. An unknown number of additional arrests were made on Friday.

We believe that it is excessive and punitive to arrest refugees on this basis and to use demolitions as a means for doing so. At least 73% of refugees in Lebanon do not have legal residency due to the inconsistent application and enforcement of renewal procedures and the expenses incurred.

For refugees who have already fled a brutal war, having hundreds of soldiers enter their community at dawn, equipped with sledgehammers, and being given only a few moments to gather belongings before they demolish their homes is a traumatic event. This action is particularly traumatic for children.

Since June, refugees in Arsal, in eastern Lebanon, have been dismantling their homes trying to comply with the ruling. On 1 July, the LAF bulldozed 20 homes, but have since then delayed further demolitions in order to give refugees an opportunity to dismantle their own home. 1,969 structures out of the 2,500 homes identified by the LAF for demolition have been taken down.

Most of the homes being demolished are made out of concrete. Many are built and owned by landlords and not the refugees themselves. It is the refugees, however, who are being punished.

NGOs are providing aid to those whose homes are being demolished, including shelter assistance. Ensuring refugees’ protection, safety, and dignity is our paramount concern. We assert that the right to adequate shelter and the right to protection when seeking asylum are inviolable.

The Government and people of Lebanon have shown extraordinary compassion and generosity in providing asylum to refugees from Syria. We urge the authorities to extend this compassion to refugees living in tented settlements, and to adhere to the bold pledges made at the Brussels Conferences which have reinforced Lebanon’s humanitarian generosity alongside the international community’s continued commitment to Lebanon.

Accordingly, we ask that Lebanese authorities cease these demolitions and work with the community, including refugees, landlords, and municipalities, to find a solution that allows refugees to continue to live in safety and dignity, where all parties respect the rule of law.

We furthermore call on Lebanese authorities to cease arresting refugees on the basis of legal residency and instead to work with the international community on developing solutions which allow refugees to maintain legal residency, without incurring a fee, including the resumption of UNHCR registration.

The Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum (LHIF) is an informal and independent coordinating body comprised of 51 international NGOs (INGOs) who are working to address the needs of vulnerable individuals, families and communities throughout Lebanon.

Note to Editors

In April, the Higher Defense Council, a military body, declared that all “semi-permanent structures” built by Syrian refugees using materials other than timber and plastic sheeting in informal camps must be dismantled.

Communities in northern Lebanon were reportedly served notice that they had until 7 August to demolish structures that contained “semi-permanent” materials. Most of these structures are partially or fully made out of concrete, and very few refugees have the equipment or the means to dismantle these.

The 8 August raids began at approximately 05:00. A total of 33 settlements were raided, and 4 demolished. A total of 808 households were affected by the action, and an estimated 350 partially or completely demolished. UNHCR estimates that there are at least 553 hard structures in the area that are vulnerable to further action, which would affect 3,359 individuals.

The order of the Higher Defense Council was first implemented in the municipality of Arsal, before proceeding to the rest of Lebanon. On 1 July the Lebanese Army demolished over 20 homes by bulldozer, after arriving at refugees’ communities at 05:00 AM. Since then, the LAF has refrained from further demolitions, instead having refugees dismantle their homes, rather than have them bulldozed by the army.

As of the end of July, 1,969 of the 2,500 structures identified by the LAF to be demolished had been taken down. In Arsal, humanitarian agencies have distributed over 2,586 shelter kits to refugees who have either had their homes demolished, or have self-dismantled in response to the order.
The LAF frequently conducts raids in refugee communities and arrests and detains refugees on the basis of their legal residency being expired.