Lebanon: Harsh Winters for Syrian Refugees in Arsal

Syrian refugees in Arsal, a Lebanese town on the border with Syria, do not have adequate shelters to withstand the harsh winter months. More than 15,000 Syrian refugees in Arsal are experiencing their second winter since a 2019 order from the Higher Defense Council, which is charied by the president and responsible for implementing national defense strategy, required them to dismantle their shelters. The order has forced them to live without adequate roofs and insulation, exposed to harsh winter conditions, including subzero temperatures and flooding


Syrian Refugee Camps, Arsal, Lebanon.

“Hoda,” Syrian refugee
It gets really cold here [in the winter]. We have to cover ourselves with up to three blankets to stay warm. I have young kids, most of them get sick.

There are more than 60,000 Syrian refugees living in Arsal, Lebanon. About 15,000 of them, like Hoda, are entering their second winter since Lebanese authorities ordered them to dismantle their shelters in summer 2019.

“Hoda,” Syrian refugee
When the destruction order came, the walls had go down to five cinder blocks high. We had to get used to the situation. We had no choice, either we leave or dismantle [our shelters].”

After dismantling, refugees were only allowed to rebuild the top portion of their shelters with wood and tarp, leaving them exposed to harsh winter conditions and flooding. Temperatures in Arsal can dip below freezing during winter nights.

“Mahmoud,” Syrian refugee
The wind takes the roof covering off. The wind gets inside sometimes and my children get cold. And the water reaches up to here on the tent’s door. It floods everywhere and creates puddles. The winter is really harsh.

Despite these hardships, none of the Syrian refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed in Arsal said it was safe enough for them to return to Syria.

“Zahra,” Syrian Refugee:
I never want to go back [to Syria] at all because it caused me so much pain. My kids and my daughter died there and I don’t want to go back.

Lebanon’s Syrian refugees are in dire need of assistance. The Lebanese government, and donor organizations and governments should act immediately to ensure refugees in Arsal have adequate shelter for the winter. 

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Children play next to shelters in a Syrian refugee camp in Arsal, Lebanon. Around 15,000 Syrian refugees in Arsal are entering their second winter without adequate roofs and insulation since the 2019 directive ordered them to dismantle concrete shelters and rebuild the top portion with tarp and wood. November 2020.