Syrian refugees in Lebanon are facing evictions from their shelters while others resort to desperate measures to cope with bitter weather conditions amid soaring fuel and food prices.
In January alone, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) received 56 cases of Syrian refugees facing evictions in different areas in Lebanon. In 2021, there were over 800 such cases – thought to be an underestimate.
In the last three months of last year, the organization received requests for cash support from 5,785 Syrian refugees and 694 Lebanese tenants who could not afford to pay rent.
Mohamad and Safa, a Syrian couple from Qalamoun, were evicted four times in the border town of Arsal.
Safa said, “The first time was the hardest because it took us some time to find a new place, so the owners assaulted my husband. The scars on his back are still visible.”
Exorbitant fuel and food prices have forced refugees to make do with cheaper, though harmful, means to stop their children from shivering in sub-zero temperatures.
“Yesterday, I searched all over the place and all I could find were some tyres,” Safa added. “Today, I woke up suffocating and my voice is hoarse… because of all the toxic fumes we inhaled all night.”
“[Firewood] is more costly and we don’t have the luxury for that. We would rather buy food,” said Mohamad.
Winters are particularly harsh in Arsal. The town is over 1,500-metre high and is used to heavy snowstorms. The situation for thousands of refugees in tents was made worse in recent years after a government decision in 2019 to demolish concrete walls higher than one metre to prevent ‘settlements becoming permanent shelters’.
Demolitions have continued this winter. Ahmed, a father of three, was ordered to knock down the wall that separates the kitchen from the living room in his tent and use plastic sheets instead.
He said, “They said it was prohibited to divide the tent into rooms. We are particularly worried about demolishing this one because the wind blows through the kitchen, which also gets flooded during winter.”
NRC is urging international donors to step up support for Lebanon’s Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese whose struggle will not stop with the end of winter, particularly with no end in sight to an unprecedented economic crisis.
“The struggle that refugees in Lebanon have to live with this winter is beyond imagination. The desperate measures they have to take to keep their children warm sadly reflect the collective failure to find a solution to this misery,” said Carlo Gherardi, NRC’s Country Director in Lebanon.
“Like every winter, refugees and their children will emerge from the season exhausted, sick and under a mountain of debt. The international community, donors and the Government of Lebanon must ensure this vicious cycle ends and prevent another harsh winter for vulnerable refugees,” said Gherardi.