The Lebanese army started destroying Syrian refugee settlements in northeast Lebanon on Monday after the expiry of a government ultimatum, officials said, as aid groups warned of more demolitions in the coming days.
In order to avoid the permanent settlement of Syrian refugees, the government imposed the July 1st deadline to demolish all shelters made out of materials other than timber and plastic.
“At 4:30 am on July 1, military units moved into several camps in Arsal and demolished at least 20 homes,” said a joint statement by seven aid groups, including Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Oxfam.
“We fear that this is the start and more demolitions will take place tomorrow,” it added.
An estimated 15,000 people, including at least 7,500 children, would be affected by the demolitions which would impact up to 3,000 units, the aid groups said.
A Lebanese security source confirmed to AFP that demolitions have started but said that only four empty concrete houses had been destroyed.
The head of the Arsal municipality, Bassel al-Hujeiri, added that Monday’s demolitions were very “limited” and impacted only homes made almost completely out of cement.
The government’s ultimatum had prompted refugees to destroy their own homes in the weeks leading up to the deadline.
As of June 27, less than half of the hard shelters in Arsal had been demolished by their inhabitants, the aid groups said in Monday’s statement.
Lebanon a country of four million people, hosts between 1.5 to two million Syrians, nearly a million of those being registered refugees.
Lebanon only permits informal camps in an effort to stop the refugees from settling permanently.
Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have warned that Lebanon is using restrictive measures such as evictions, curfews and raids to encourage repatriation.