BEIRUT/ZAHRANI: The eviction of dozens of Syrian refugees living in south Lebanon’s Zahrani is the result of an anti-pollution campaign being implemented by the Litani River Authority.
The refugees were forced to evacuate Sunday because their shelters were contributing to the pollution of the Litani River in the region, Sami Alawieh, the Litani River Authority’s general director, told The Daily Star.
“One of many reasons for the pollution of the Litani River is the presence of the refugee [settlements] on the river,” Alawieh said, adding that the camps are “without adequate sanitation facilities or bathrooms, so all the sewage and waste from the shelters started going into the irrigation channel and into the river.”
The Al-Kasimieh irrigation project in the area irrigates 4,000 hectares of farmland, Alawieh said.
The eviction was the Litani River Authority's latest move against sources of pollution of the south Lebanon waterway. Last week, the authority formed a joint committee with the Industry Ministry to clamp down on pollution originating from local factories.
The Litani, the longest river in Lebanon, has often made headlines as locals, activists, officials and ministers have pushed for solutions to the decades-old issue of heavy pollution caused by years of neglect and poor management.
Among the causes of the river’s pollution, according to former Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, are wastewater, industrial waste, pesticides, medical waste and waste produced by refugee camps.
Under Hajj Hasan’s direction, the Industry Ministry issued 27 orders to temporarily close industrial organizations in the Bekaa Valley suspected of polluting the river. The factories have remained closed.
Another 261 licensed factories received official warnings, while 117 unlicensed ones were instructed to straighten out their status.
The authority, the Ghazieh Municipality and the Internal Security Forces Sunday began bulldozing about 30 tents belonging to over 40 Syrian refugee families from Homs and Hama, who were living on the site of the Al-Kasmieh irrigation channel project.
Some of the refugees told The Daily Star they had lived there since the onset of the Syrian war almost eight years ago. Alawieh claimed the authorities had given notice of the demolition of the refugee tents two weeks earlier.
Unable to find alternative housing, some families remained without shelter overnight.
“We have not found shelter or a place for us to sleep in since yesterday. We and our children slept out in the open. ... They came and took everything away,” Umm Mazen, one of the affected refugees, said.
While some of the families who evacuated were sent to other refugee camps near Zahrani, many said they had appealed to the UNHCR for alternative housing.
“No one came to ask about what we need, and nobody has come from the UNHCR to ask. This is our situation. I am homeless and I have no ability to look for a place to live. I have no capacity to pay the rent, and I have 14 people in my family,” Abu Merham, another refugee, said.
A UNHCR spokesperson said, “We have been in touch with some refugees affected by this eviction who live in the settlement, and we’re following up with them to assess what their urgent needs are right now and to see how we can provide support.”
This article was amended on Saturday, February 23 2019
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the refugee settlement was dismantled as a result of the work of the joint committee between the Litani River Authority and the Industry Ministry. Rather, this committee is focused on cracking down on factories polluting the river and is not connected to the refugees’ eviction. The Daily Star regrets this error.