BEIRUT (Reuters) – At least 15,000 Syrian children will be at risk of homelessness if the Lebanese government goes ahead with the planned demolition of “semi-permanent structures” built by refugees in eastern Lebanon, aid agencies warned on Tuesday.
Save the Children, World Vision and Terre des Hommes Foundation said in a joint statement the government made a decision in April that dictated all structures made of materials other than timber and plastic sheeting will be knocked down in the border town of Arsal.
Syrians have until June 9 to make the necessary changes to their structures, after which they will be demolished, the statement said.
More than half of Syria’s pre-war 22 million population was displaced by the war, with over 5 million people leaving the country as refugees, mostly to adjacent Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Lebanon has been host to more than a million Syrian refugees escaping the violence that has ravaged the country since 2011.
Some have recently started returning to Syria, though, as fighting eases in many parts of the country, and Lebanon has stepped up efforts to encourage Syrians to return home.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad government’s has recovered most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran, clawing back rebel enclaves in what Damascus calls reconciliation deals.
Aid agencies working with refugees have cited concerns over the loss of property and conscription into the Syrian army as big reasons discouraging Syrians from returning, along with fear of reprisals.
According to the aid agencies, in Arsal alone there are 5,682 hard structures made of concrete that are set to be included in demolition plans, hosting more than 25,000 people.
Other villages in eastern Lebanon are expected to witness similar measures.
“Many of these families are very poor, barely making ends meet and put food on the table,” said Piotr Sasin, Country Representative at Terre des hommes Foundation.
“If their homes are demolished, they have no means of rebuilding them or paying rent elsewhere. For a child who barely eats, and often doesn’t go to school, losing a home is extremely traumatic. And we are talking about 15,000 children.”
Refugees told a team from Save the Children that they were only informed of the decision a few days earlier, the NGO told Reuters.
It is unclear how the municipality plans to deal with Syrians whose homes are demolished.
(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch, editing by Ed Osmond)