15,000 Syrian refugee children at risk of being made homeless if demolition of homes goes ahead

Syrian children stand in front of their tent inside an informal settlement for Syrian refugees in Bar Elia, Bekaa valley, LebanonReuters

World Vision, Save the Children and the Terre des hommes Foundation have made a desperate appeal to the Lebanese government to stop the planned demolition of homes sheltering Syrian refugees. 

The three development agencies warn that at least 15,000 children stand to be made homeless if the demolition of the homes in Arsal, eastern Lebanon, goes ahead as planned. 

They further warned that vital household water and sanitation systems would also be destroyed, leaving children at high risk of illness and disease.

The homes have been earmarked for demolition after the Higher Defense council, a military body, said in April that all "semi-permanent structures" built by Syrian refugees using materials other than timber and plastic sheeting in informal camps were to be deconstructed.

The refugees affected by the ordinance have until Sunday to bring their homes into compliance or else see them demolished.

World Vision warned that demolishing the homes would "severely" impact the mental and physical wellbeing of the families affected.

The Christian aid agency said that it was unclear whereelse the refugees could live if their homes are destroyed and that they could face exposure to the extreme summer weather.

Further down the line, Hans Bederski, World Vision Country Director, raised concerns about the families' welfare if they are forced to spend the next winter without proper shelter.

"We are worried about how these children and their families, especially the ones headed by women, will survive the harsh weather conditions if they are only living in makeshift shelters or under tarpaulins," he said. 

One of those affected is Mayssa, 59, who has been living in Arsal since 2013 with her son, daughter-in-law and eight grand-children aged 5 to 17.

"When I heard about the demolition, I thought to myself I will sleep on top of the children, and have them demolish this home on our heads," she said. 

For Nada, 39, her husband and four children, the thought of losing their home is unimaginable. 

"I built my home here from scratch, and it took a lot of hard work. I want to save all my belongings from demolition. I have four children and I'm a teacher. I can't do without my washing machine. I want to save all my things. It's a very difficult situation, and I pray to God that nothing will be destroyed," she said.

Allison Zelkowitz, Save the Children's Country Director in Lebanon, said, "Our teams regularly meet children who are still disturbed by the loss of their homes in Syria. They should not have to watch their homes be destroyed again and relive such traumas."

Lebanon is home to nearly one million Syrian refugees who live in urban settings and informal settlements. As many as two thirds are believed to live under the poverty line.

In Arsal, 5,682 concrete structures housing over 25,000 people have been earmarked for demolition. Similar measures are expected to be imposed in other villages, affecting even more families.

Piotr Sasin, Country Representative at Terre des hommes Foundation said: "Many of these families are very poor, barely making ends meet and put food on the table.

"If their homes are demolished, they have no means of rebuilding them or paying rent elsewhere. For a child who barely eats, and often doesn't go to school, losing a home is extremely traumatic. And we are talking about 15,000 children."