Bar Elias Refugee Camp: The Story of a Community Under Threat
The residents of a Syrian refugee camp in Bar Elias are currently living in constant worry of being evicted by the landowner who has been continuously trying to evict them. In 2020, the owner of the land rented by the refugees was ready to dismantle the tents and evict the residents, but his partner intervened and convinced him otherwise. Then in 2021, the owner gave the refugees notice that they had until the end of that year to evacuate the land, and threatened that, if they did not evacuate by then, he would hire a bulldozer to remove the tents.
The small camp houses 19 tents (made of wood and plastic sheds), in which 21 families live, a total of 103 residents, all of whom are UNHCR-registered and documented Syrian refugees. The monthly rent paid by each tent is 850,000 L.L.
Residents of the camp endure bad living conditions, especially in terms of basic services such as electricity, water supply, and sanitation. Every winter, the camp floods, and a water pump is required to remove the water. Two NGOs monitor the living conditions and provide food supplies and health services for the residents on a regular basis.
The land has two owners who directly manage the camp, and the residents prefer dealing with the second owner as he is far more sympathetic and easier to communicate with.
Apparently, the main reason for the eviction threat is the accumulated unpaid rent of 14 of the families, with delays running between 1 and 3 years for rent amounts between 675,000 L.L. and 1,400,000 L.L.
Originally, the owner was demanding evacuation of the land by October. However, the camp residents appealed to one of his relatives who negotiated with him on their behalf, and convinced him to extend the deadline until the end of the year. All attempts to convince him to allow them to stay in return for an increase in the monthly rent were met with rejection.
When the owner’s partner expressed his inability to get to an agreement with him regarding the eviction, the residents tried to involve the two previously mentioned NGOs to apply pressure on the owner. The NGOs refused to do so claiming that this was beyond their scope of work.
The Housing Monitor was made aware of this case when we received two calls in October 2021 from residents of the camp who reported the eviction threat.
The tenants informed us that they would attempt again to negotiate with the owner, and indeed, after several of his relatives tried to mediate, the owner agreed to extend the eviction notice until the end of January. He then sent a voice note to the residents warning them, and telling them to dismantle the tents by the end of the notice period.
At that point, the Housing Monitor asked a local mediator to intervene and understand the owner’s motives to evict the residents, and to try to arrive at a middle ground with him. When the mediator spoke with the owner, they discovered that the owner does not really intend to evict the residents, and that through threats, he was trying to apply pressure on the NGOs to provide support to the camp, as the camp maintenance costs have exceeded his financial ability.
The Monitor communicated with the UNHCR who had mentioned that they were closely monitoring the situation in the camp in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some legal actors.
When we spoke with the mayor, we discovered that the municipality does not intervene in matters of eviction, and it restricts its role to minor mediation, and thus has no authority regarding the relationship between the landowners and refugees.
The mayor also added that the municipality provides some services in the camp, such as trash collection and sanitation, water and electricity, as well as aid in cases of emergency, for which it charges the landowner 50,000 L.L. annually per tent.
There are around 85 camps registered with the Municipality of Bar Elias, in addition to unregistered camps, as well as individuals and families that live in residential units in the town. The number of registered members of the Syrian diaspora in Bar Elias is around 70,000 people (according to the mayor), all of whom are subject to the threat of eviction for various reasons, the most prominent of which is rent accumulation due to the insane increase in rent prices (and prices in general), and the families’ inability to pay rent regularly.
We also highlight the municipality’s inability to protect the residents from eviction, especially in the context of camps that the municipality itself has allowed to be constructed, as owners had to register them with the municipality to be granted the needed construction permits.
Housing Monitor (HM) is a community housing tool developed by Public Works Studio to protect and advance housing rights in Lebanon. The tool is used by residents from various marginalized social groups to report on housing vulnerabilities and eviction threats. In response, Public Works Studio provides individualized legal and social support, mobilizes tenants around shared grievances, and identifies any trends in housing injustices, to then advocate reform.