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."
'START FROM SCRATCH'
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."


Iran cries victory after UN rejects US bid to extend arms embargo

Updated 15 August 2020

Iran cries victory after UN rejects US bid to extend arms embargo

  • Only two of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the US resolution seeking to extend the embargo
  • The result increases the likelihood that the US will try to unilaterally force a return of UN sanctions

TEHRAN: Iran on Saturday hailed a UN Security Council vote rejecting a US bid to extend an arms embargo on the Islamic republic, saying its foe has “never been so isolated.”
President Hassan Rouhani said the United States had failed to kill off what he called the “half alive” 2015 deal with major powers that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
“The United States failed in this conspiracy with humiliation,” Rouhani told a televised news conference.
“In my opinion, this day will go down in the history of our Iran and in the history of fighting global arrogance.”
Only two of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the US resolution seeking to extend the embargo, highlighting the division between Washington and its European allies since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear accord in May 2018.
Washington’s European allies all abstained, and Iran mocked the Trump administration for only winning the support of one other country, the Dominican Republic.
“In the 75 years of United Nations history, America has never been so isolated,” said foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
“Despite all the trips, pressure and the hawking, the United States could only mobilize a small country (to vote) with them,” he tweeted.
The result increases the likelihood that the US will try to unilaterally force a return of UN sanctions, which experts say threatens to plunge the Council into one of its worst-ever diplomatic crises.
“The Security Council’s failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The embargo on conventional arms is due to expire on October 18 under the terms of a resolution that blessed the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Since Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and slapped unilateral sanctions on Iran under a campaign of “maximum pressure,” Tehran has since taken small but escalating steps away from compliance with the nuclear accord as it presses for sanctions relief.
European allies of the United States — who, along with Russia and China, signed the deal with Iran — have voiced support for extending the 13-year-long conventional arms embargo, saying an expiry threatens stability in the Middle East.
However, their priority is to preserve the JCPOA.
The US text, seen by AFP, effectively called for an indefinite extension of the embargo on Iran, which diplomats said would threaten the nuclear agreement.
Iran says it has the right to self-defense and that a continuation of the ban would mean an end to the nuclear deal.
Pompeo announced that members had failed to back the proposal around 30 minutes before Indonesia, the current president of the Security Council, announced that the official results included two votes against and 11 abstentions.
Russia and China opposed the resolution.
“The result shows again that unilateralism enjoys no support, and bullying will fail,” China’s UN mission tweeted.
Ambassador Gunter Sautter of Germany, which abstained, said “more consultations are needed” to find a solution that is acceptable to all council members.
During a call between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, the leaders “discussed the urgent need for UN action to extend the arms embargo on Iran.”
Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on China, France, Russia, Britain, the US, Germany and Iran to convene an emergency video summit to avoid an escalation of tensions in the Gulf.
Washington has threatened to try to force a return of UN sanctions if it is not extended by using a controversial technique called “snapback.”
Pompeo has offered the contested argument that the US remains a “participant” in the nuclear accord as it was listed in the 2015 resolution — and therefore can force a return to sanctions if it sees Iran as being in violation of its terms.
European allies have been skeptical on whether Washington can force sanctions and warn that the attempt may delegitimize the Security Council.
Nevertheless, the US is expected to deliver the snapback letter next week, AFP understands.
Analysts suspect that Washington purposefully put forward a hard-line draft that it knew Council members would not be able to accept.
“The fact is that everybody at the UN believes this (resolution) is just a prelude to a US effort to trigger snapback and sink the Iranian nuclear deal,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the International Crisis Group, told AFP.