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Lebanon: Setting Syrian refugee camp ablaze & authorities’ slow response reveal alarming racism

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Euro-Med Monitor
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Geneva – The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor strongly condemned setting a Syrian refugee camp ablaze near the town of Bhanine in the northern Lebanon region of Miniyeh after a fight between Lebanese citizens and Syrian workers.

On Saturday, December 26, 2020, a Lebanese man from Al-Mir family visited a store in Camp 9 that hosts around 100 families. He and a Syrian worker had a verbal fight after the Lebanese national verbally harassed a Syrian refugee girl. Then, more Lebanese young men gathered near the camp's gate and started shooting live bullets. Afterwards, they sat the camp to fire, leaving the camp a charred wasteland.

Euro-Med Monitor interviewed a Camp 9 Crisis Cell coordinator in Bhannine. He said on condition of anonymity that "A group of Lebanese youths blocked the back and the front entrances of the camp, as voices calling for burning the camp were heard. They gave the Syrian refugees only 15 minutes to evacuate the camp, which was almost impossible to do in a very short time as the camp is not organized and does not have corridors to facilitate the evacuation process. As a result, some of them jumped over the wall while others threw their children over the wall. They fled without getting their basic personal properties, especially those belonging to the children and the elderly".

"The families dispersed; men escaped to avoid other fights while women, children, and the elderly went for nearby camps to find shelter."

They kept shooting in the air for half an hour before setting the camp ablaze. The security forces did not attend to contain the situation until the camp was completely burned down.

A female survivor (asked to keep her ID secret) said: "I was in the camp at the moment the fire broke out. I managed to escape with the help of a Lebanese person who rescued me and my children before the fire could reache us. Last night, we stayed in the street. In the morning, we walked to a nearby camp where we they received us. We are now waiting for aid to feed our children and secure a shelter where we could stay in light of this cold weather".

Local residents volunteered to help and protect the Syrian refugees and provided them with basic supplies and temporary shelters.

Attacks on Syrian refugees in Lebanon have increased recently in conjunction with the rise of hate speech and incitement against them and the absence of any fair system of accountability for such acts.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in difficult conditions especially during winter. Their shelters are not sufficiently equipped to cope with the severe cold, especially for children and the elderly who already need a special care.

"Authorities should strictly control the security situation to prevent new attacks on Syrian refugees, which have been remarkably repeated recently," said Tariq Hajjar, legal advisor at Euro-Med Monitor. "The Lebanese authorities should abide by their responsibilities towards refugees in line with the international human rights treaties enshrined in the Lebanese constitution, specifically in its introduction in Paragraph B. It must secure the necessary and adequate protection for refugees, especially after the deterioration of the economic conditions in the country".

The Lebanese authorities should take immediate measures to arrest the perpetrators and planners who burned the camp and take urgent measures in cooperation with the High Commissioner for Refugees to provide aid and relief to the refugees affected by the fire. It should also work to curb the repeated attacks and discriminatory practices against the Syrian refugees in light of the escalation of hate speech and the lack of security in the country.