Following the news on the request notice to evacuate Al-Rihaniya Shelter Center for Syrian Refugees in the region of Bibneen, Akkar (North Lebanon), the Union of Relief and Development Associations in Lebanon (URDA), being the supervising authority for this shelter, would like to underscore the following:
First: Facts about Al-Rihaniya Shelter Center:
- The shelter site is located to the south-west of Bibneen town in Akkar, North Lebanon, in a rural agricultural area, at the borders of the town, and is approximately 5 kms away from the main road. The shelter is not adjacent to any official or military quarters, and is only surrounded by few residential buildings. Relations between the refugees residing in the shelter and their neighbors are highly friendly and excellent.
- Established in 2013, as a means to provide a temporary shelter for the Syrian refugees fleeing the violence and war crimes in their home country. This has been especially as the influx of refugees climaxed in 2013, and the capacity of Lebanese towns to host additional refugees was exhausted, while the refugees themselves had no source of funding to rent a shelter in Lebanon. The Rihaniya Shelter hosts currently 300 temporary tents, made of fabric, and thus the threat of transforming to a permanent residence is unfounded.
- The population of the shelter is estimated at around 1,000 refugees, 80% of whom are women and children. This population is among the highly vulnerable, and does not constitute any threat because even the population of adult males in the shelter is mainly elderly and individuals with chronic diseases. Moreover, the majority of the families in the Shelter do not have a working head, and there is a significant number of widows and orphans.
- It is established on a private land, rented by URDA. There is no dispute of any form (legal or non-legal) with any party in relation to the land.
- It is considered one of the most organized and orderly shelters in Lebanon, especially as it highly supports the basic humanitarian needs of the refugees. Hence it stands out from the majority of random shelters in different Lebanese regions.
- It is managed by Lebanese employees, mostly locals from the region, whose responsibility is to ensure safety and order inside the shelter. Additionally, the shelter is fenced from all directions, with one main gate that ensures prompt control over the movement into and out from the shelter.
- The Lebanese Security Forces are the sole responsible for the security of the Shelter, just like any other area in Lebanon. There are no obstacles or any other issues that restrict or limit the Lebanese Security Forces from pursuing their responsibilities and authority inside the shelter. We would like to add here that the Shelter management and URDA coordinate on a daily basis with all concerned Lebanese authorities and official institutions in relation to the daily management of the Shelter, and any upcoming or outstanding issues.
- All the refugees residing in the shelter have a clear and fixed address of residence that can be reached easily by the Lebanese Security Forces if needed. The Lebanese Security Forces have an updated complete list of names for all the residents in the shelter.
- Since its establishment, the Shelter never witnessed any security issue or conflict, or even dispute, including not with its neighbors or adjacent areas. None of the shelter’s residents has been ever convicted, noting that the Lebanese Security forces have interrogated all the men resident in the shelter after the explosions in Al-Qa’a town in Lebanon, with none of them being held for more than the interrogation period.
Second: On the Request to Evacuate
- Neither URDA nor Al-Rihaniya Shelter Management, nor the residents of the shelter received an official request notice to evacuate the shelter within a specific notice period; but a security official came to the Shelter and informed the Shelter management orally that the Shelter should be evacuated.
- During the few days that followed this request, URDA Management tried to contact the different ministries and official authorities – including security authorities. Unfortunately, and until date, there is no clear answer as to why, how the request has been issued, and whether it is possible to work on a resolution or an alternate solution.
Third: Humanitarian Consequences of Evacuation
- The evacuation request is highly alarming, as it will cause a humanitarian crisis for around 1,000 refugees, the majority of whom are children and women, especially as the winter approaches. The Shelter residents live below the poverty line, do not have fixed source of income, and cannot afford the cost of renting any other shelter outside. The situation is further exacerbated as the international and local aid organizations have limited their monetary support for the refugees.
- Securing a decent shelter for such a large number of refugees within the requested notice period is very hard to impossible, because establishing such a shelter costs lots of time, money and resources.
- The evacuation of the shelter without providing an alternate shelter will put the safety and security of these refugees at risk, especially the most vulnerable populations of children and women.
The Union of Relief and Development Associations in Lebanon