Zahle fire: Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon gutted by blaze

No injuries were reported but about 36 of 40 tents were destroyed, leaving many without shelter

The Syrian refugee camp near Al-Rehab complex in Zahle, Bekaa. NNA
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A fire that erupted on Monday has razed a Syrian refugee camp near Zahle in Lebanon's Bekaa region, the Lebanese Civil Defence said.

Videos shared on social media showed black smoke billowing from the camp as civil defence teams attempted to extinguish the flames.

A spark from an electrical device was thought to have caused the fire, Fayez El Chekieh, chief of the Bekaa regional station of the Lebanese Civil Defence, told The National.

“These kinds of incidents happen all the time due to the chaotic set-up of electricity and the tents being closely packed together,” Mr El Chekieh said.

Mr El Chekieh said the Civil Defence will investigate the cause of the fire.

No injuries were reported, however, Mr El Chekieh said that four tents remained of the 40 that were in the camp.

Pictures taken after the fire had been extinguished showed the camp, which was home to 350 Syrian refugees, in ruins. Refugees could be seen searching for their belongings amid the ashes.

Mr El Chekieh said residents were safely removed and that the UNHCR was caring for those displaced.

About two million Syrians are living in Lebanon, according to authorities, with 800,000 registered as refugees with the UN. Lebanon is thought to have a total population of about five million, including Syrians.

Their status remains a highly sensitive issue after 2019 when Lebanon experienced what the World Bank described as one of the worst economic crises in centuries.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon have faced backlash in recent weeks following the assassination of an official from the Lebanese Forces, which the Lebanese Army attributed to a Syrian gang.

UNHCR and security sources have confirmed a rise in violence against Syrians, including the establishment of informal checkpoints and curfews, acts of violence in the street, and threats of mass evictions in some neighbourhoods.

Last Saturday, Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that “most of the Syrians in Lebanon” will be “deported … when the international community recognises” the existence of safe zones in Syria.

“We are in the process of putting in place a solution through our contacts,” Mr Mikati said while calling for “a distinction to be made between Syrians who work in Lebanon and those who arrive in Lebanon as refugees to take advantage.”

“The solution begins by considering most of the regions in Syria to be secure so that Syrians who have come to Lebanon as refugees can be deported there,” he said.

Human Rights Watch said the violence against Syrians is “extremely concerning, especially given the heightened discriminatory rhetoric used by Lebanese officials to scapegoat an entire refugee population”.

Updated: April 22, 2024, 6:56 PM