Syrians, facing orders to demolish homes, fear fate in Lebanon

Dima Al-Kanj, 30, a Syrian refugee, gestures near the rubble of her dismantled concrete hut at a makeshift Syrian refugee camp in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon July 4, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 08 July 2019

Syrians, facing orders to demolish homes, fear fate in Lebanon

  • The army demolished at least 20 refugee homes on Monday, seven global aid agencies say

ARSAL, Lebanon: Dima Al-Kanj's house is now a pile of rubble and twisted metal.
It was just a concrete hut near the Lebanese border, but she had spent five years trying to make it cosy for her children after fleeing the war in Syria.
Then, under army orders, she had to smash it.
"Every year, we fixed up one thing after another so that we could live in what you'd call a home," she said, standing in the room levelled to the ground in the remote Lebanese town of Arsal. "Now, there's nothing left."
Kanj is among thousands of Syrian refugees who will be left stranded by a government decision to dismantle "semi-permanent structures" in eastern Lebanon, aid agencies say.
At least 15,000 children could become homeless.
Lebanon is toughening enforcement of work and housing rules - some of which were ignored for years - on its more than 1 million Syrian refugees. Lebanese politicians have also ramped up their calls for the Syrians to leave.
The army demolished at least 20 refugee homes on Monday, seven global aid agencies said.
In the makeshift Arsal camp where Kanj lives, home to 450 people, refugees said the army arrived at dawn with a small bulldozer taking down a few shelters.
Soldiers came again two days later as a reminder that people must remove their concrete walls and metal roofs.
Kanj, 30, has since paid men from a nearby camp to knock down her hut with jackhammers. She preferred to do it herself than face a forcible demolition.
She and her four small children are now crammed into their neighbour's hut across the dirt road with a dozen people.
"We're all sitting inside the same room on top of each other with our stuff," she said. "We can't rent a place or leave or do anything at all."
People at the camp said they would follow the rules but have found it hard to meet deadlines and find money for equipment. They must also get rid of the rubble.
Some worry they will not manage to cobble together the permitted tents from wood and plastic sheeting, which would barely shield them from Arsal's harsh winter.
The military first told them of the order some two months ago and has since allowed grace periods. The army has not commented on the demolitions, but a military source said the forces were executing a legal regulation.
"Of course, we're scared of the future," Kanj said. "God knows what more decisions (authorities) will come up with next."
Human Rights Watch described the shelter order as "one of many recent actions to crank up pressure on Syrian refugees to go back." These include more arrests, deportations, shop closures, curfews, evictions and other measures in the past months, it said on Friday.
Some Lebanese officials have called the mainly Sunni refugees a threat to Lebanon, warning the concrete huts would lead to their lasting settlement.
It is a thorny topic in a country with a fragile sectarian political system where informal settlements of Palestinians have expanded after they came decades ago.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the president's son-in-law, has pushed hard for Syrians to go home, insisting they should not wait for an elusive peace deal to end the war.
Last month, he said town councils could get refugees to leave by "implementing the law and protecting public order".
But activists accuse his party and other politicians of fueling hostility towards refugees and blaming them for Lebanon's long-existing problems.
Abou Firas, a Syrian refugee who oversees the same Arsal camp, said they would leave if they could.
As fighting died down and Damascus reclaimed much of Syria, tens of thousands of refugees have returned, Lebanese authorities say. Still, aid agencies say many have fears about going home, including reprisals, military conscription, loss of property, or fresh waves of violence.
"There's a lot of uncertainty about our fate," said Abou Firas, who must demolish his family's hut too. "We don't intend on permanently settling here."
"This room becomes a part of you," he added. "You put effort into fixing it up ... and suddenly you find yourself having to start from scratch."

A Jordanian NGO takes on social ills in Amman neighborhoods

Updated 2 min 11 sec ago

A Jordanian NGO takes on social ills in Amman neighborhoods

  • Harra aims to revive neighborhoods by encouraging residents to work collectively to improve their environment
  • Initiative has made a difference in five neighborhoods, including deprived areas in Amman

CAIRO: A local initiative in Jordan is rejuvenating neighborhoods in the kingdom’s capital, bringing together communities and encouraging residents to work collectively to improve their environment.

The Harra, an NGO which translates into “neighborhood,” has so far renovated five areas in Amman under the guidance of its founder, the social entrepreneur Mohammed Abu Amerah.

When Abu Amerah returned to Jordan after many years away in 2005, he was saddened to find his local community in disarray — epitomized by ugly concrete boxes and overflowing litter — and quickly decided to take action to reinvigorate the local area.

Abu Amerah believes that traditional “harra” life in Jordan has been compromised by Amman’s explosive growth, as it struggles to contain growing numbers of refugees from across the country’s borders.

“A class system has developed, encouraging discrimination and degradation of the community,” he said.

Abu Amerah said he was spurred into action when he heard the news that his neighbor had been shot at in a dispute over a parking space.

“The idea for Harra came to me slowly. I saw that the lack of elegant structures in the community reflected not just the public space, but also created a negative psychological space among inhabitants.”

The Harra founder said that worn-out built environments not only lack “function” but also breed discontent, insecurity and even violence.

Abu Amerah has since created a Harra “identity plan” which he uses as a guide to breathe life and renewed confidence into communities.

The Harra rejuvenation strategy, which is funded by Jordanian aid, is based around physical, environmental, educational and social aspects – which are then mobilized into the community.

It has taken Abu Amerah 12 years to successfully rejuvenate five harras in Amman: Al-Ashrafiyah, Yarmouk, Jabal Jouffah, Al-Nasr and Wihdat refugee camp, which are some of the most deprived areas in the Jordanian capital.

The Harra Initiative brings neighborhood residents together to develop and implement rehabilitation projects that address common problems.

“The rehabilitation projects ultimately lead to improving the living conditions in the neighborhood,” said Abu Amerah.

The main drive in Harra is the community itself and the need to show members of the locality how to use their power to change their own lives and those of their children and their neighborhood.

This starts with the physical rebuilding of the neighborhood, including the renovation of walls and streets, adding address numbers to houses and collecting garbage, which lasts between 12 and 14 months. But the purpose of this phase is also to build social nets in the Jordanian community.

The process of rehabilitation brings with it the creation of neighborhood associations, the establishment of recycling and energy saving projects or creating ways of generating income.

“The methodology rests on a community participatory approach, which unlocks residents’ own innovative thinking and creative energies,” said Abu Amerah. “Harra interventions are designed to foster a sense of accountability and collective ownership.”

The social entrepreneur said the benefits of the Harra programs have been very tangible. “The programs have provided the initial motivation and leadership needed to inspire change within each targeted community.

“They have also promoted recognition and sensitivity towards social, behavioral processes, cultural and economic diversity.”

Abu Amerah said that reclaiming the public space has helped to reduce violence, created a community voice and promoted social cohesion and resilience among communities.

“Creating the sense of collective ownership among residents was the biggest challenge of all,” Abu Amerah said.

“We have successfully created the voice of harra to address and influence the issues that shape our reality and future in all aspects.”


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