Syrian refugees flee Lebanon camp after attack on firefighters

At least 33 residents were arrested over incident that left one civil defence member severely injured

Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in informal camps such as this one in the Delhamiyeh area of the central Bekaa Valley. AFP
Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in informal camps such as this one in the Delhamiyeh area of the central Bekaa Valley. AFP

Hundreds of Syrian refugees fled their homes in Lebanon's Bekaa valley and their movements were severely restricted after youth from their camp were involved in an incident that left a firefighter in intensive care.

The Lebanese civil defence member was attacked by “a number of Syrian youths” who threw stones at him and at his vehicle as he was trying to extinguish a fire near their camp at the entrance of the small Christian village of Deir Al Ahmar on Wednesday, the state-run National News Agency (NNA) reported.

He suffered a serious head injury and was placed in intensive care, while two colleagues were slightly injured. The army immediately raided the camp and arrested 33 Syrians, NNA said.

The camp was the biggest in the area and housed between 2,000 and 3000 people, a local source who asked to remain anonymous told The National. However, local television network LBCI put the number of residents at 700.

All the residents left the camp after the incident and their whereabouts are unknown. “They probably moved to Baalbek, or somewhere near," the source said, referring to the region’s main city located 17 kilometres away.

The source said the reason for the attack was anger over the time it took for the civil defence to arrive. “They took 25 minutes to come and the Syrians didn’t accept that," he said.

In addition to this, the incident occurred on the second day of Eid Al Fitr holiday, which meant that the camp was crowded with people who had not gone out to work. “When one started throwing rocks, everybody followed," the source said.

No one from the civil defence’s media team was available for comment.

On Wednesday night, the heads of municipalities of Deir Al Ahmar and surrounding villages released a statement condemning the “blatant aggression by a group of displaced Syrians”.

“As a result of public anger and to preserve the security of the displaced, and to prevent the recurrence of such an incident", the municipalities banned Syrians from returning to the camp “under any pretext” and called for the local police to block its entrance.

The source confirmed that a few policemen were guarding the camp on Thursday. However, he expected that residents would be allowed to return to collect their belongings.

The local governor imposed a curfew on Syrians from Wednesday evening to Friday morning to “preserve the security of villagers and of our Syrian brothers”.

Elie Mahfoud, a Lebanese politician and head of the small Movement for Change political party, called on Twitter for the deportation of the Syrians involved in the incident. But no major politicians had commented on the incident on Thursday.

Lebanon is still in shock over an attack in the northern town of Tripoli on Monday night by a former ISIS fighter who killed four soldiers and policemen.

Lebanon hosts nearly a million Syrian refugees who are registered with the UN, and about 500,000 who are unregistered. This places a considerable burden on a small country that struggles to provide adequate services for its own citizens, estimated at between four million and five million.

More than half of the Syrian refugee households live on less than $2.90 (Dh11) per person per day and cannot meet their needs for food, health and shelter, according to a 2018 assessment by the UN refugee agency, the World Food Programme and Unicef.

Politicians have been outspoken about wanting to the Syrians to return home after eight years of war, calling them “displaced”, not “refugees”. Although Lebanon adheres to most other treaties linked to refugee protection, the country has not signed the 1951 convention defining the status and rights of refugees.

Mass retaliation measures against Syrians are rare but not unheard of. In late 2017, a Lebanese woman’s murder by her Syrian concierge in northern Lebanon prompted the eviction of hundreds of Syrians from the area.

Published: June 6, 2019 06:24 PM


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