February 18, 2021

Syrian refugees suffering in Lebanon’s Arsal

Human Rights Watch has spoken out about the dire conditions Syrian refugees are suffering in the Lebanese town of Arsal, along the border with Syria. This winter is the second since their makeshift homes were dismantled and many refugees are still left without any sort of protection from brutal weather conditions.

More than 15,000 Syrian refugees in Arsal are experiencing their second winter since a 2019 order from the Higher Defense Council, which is chaired by the president and responsible for implementing national defense strategy, required them to dismantle their shelters.

The order has forced them to live without adequate roofs and insulation, exposed to harsh winter conditions, including subzero temperatures and flooding, the statement said.

Living conditions for the Syrian refugees living in Arsal forced to dismantle their shelters in 2019 remain dire. Their situation, compounded by Covid-19 movement restrictions, threatens their safety and their very lives.

Disastrous living conditions

In November and December 2020, researchers returned to Arsal to interview seven refugees first interviewed during the summer of 2019 to assess the impact of the demolitions on their standard of living, and in particular on their access to adequate shelter during the winter months.

The refugees described dire living conditions. They also said they lack information and resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the statement said.

All seven refugees interviewed described harsh weather conditions and inadequate building materials. Due to flooding and heavy rains, four said that mold had formed on the wood used to rebuild the top portions of the shelters. A few said the mold caused health problems for children and asthmatic relatives.

Call for accessible health care to be provided

Despite their dire living conditions, “none of the Syrian refugees interviewed said it was safe enough for them to return to Syria.”

Donor organizations should ensure that everyone’s right to accessible medical care and services is fully protected. 

This should include increased support for taking care of Syrian refugees to protect vulnerable families from diseases and to enable them to live in safety and dignity. Facing inadequate healthcare, COVID-19 restrictions, and rampant inflation, Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population urgently needs assistance, especially during these harsh winter months.

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