BEIRUT: After fleeing gunfire and shelling in their home country, Syrian refugees in Tripoli are again facing the terror of warfare as weeklong armed clashes have the northern city on the edge of chaos.
Refugees are living in fear and many are considering moving elsewhere in Lebanon or returning to Syria after violence erupted between the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods, killing 11 and wounding dozens.
“The Syrian refugees in Lebanon don’t feel safe,” Burhan Mousa Agha, a refugee from Homs, told The Daily Star from Tripoli.
Putting an at-risk population again in conflict is likely to raise new questions about the future of the country’s refugee population, an already politically divisive issue. Many of the displaced Syrians living in the two warring neighborhoods have moved already or are looking for new housing, refugees reported.
Tripoli is home to one of the largest hubs of refugees in the country, only rivaled by the border area of Wadi Khaled in nearby Akkar. Officials with charity groups put the total number of refugees in Tripoli at around 20,000, which is almost half of the total 42,000 they estimate reside in the country.
The Lebanese military has also put the city on lockdown to try and stop the violence. There is a large army presence throughout the city and a number of new checkpoints on the roads. The increased security and security has refugees almost as concerned as the gunbattles.
Mousa Agha said he is afraid to walk the streets, particularly during the day because of the fighting and the increased military presence that might cause him trouble.
He said refugees fear they will be detained if they try to go through the new checkpoints.
“They want to check the ID of refugees,” he said. “Like me, for example, I do not have a card, I came to Lebanon illegally.”
Thousands of other refugees, like Mousa Agha, fled the conflict in Syria and entered Lebanon through illegal border crossings: They now live in without official documentation.
“My friend came to me yesterday; he was afraid to go back to his home,” Mousa Agha said.
Some refugees are considering leaving the city, but for a population that lives largely day-to-day there are few options available. Many refugee families are large and have young children. Leaving Syria was a major decision and relocating isn’t taken lightly.
Refugees already live in generally tenuous situations, as housing is hard to come by, medical care is difficult to find and work opportunities are limited.
Ahmad Moussa, a refugee and member of the Local Coordinating Committee operating in Lebanon, called for the special documents to be issued by Lebanon or the UNHCR to certify their status and reduce the general level of fear.
Moussa said the latest clashes are simply too much to tolerate.
“In addition to the longstanding psychological fears, we now have growing security concerns,” Moussa said.
As the banners, grievances and gunmen mirror the fighting against the regime in Syria, there is a sense of fearful déjà vu.
“The refugees’ feelings toward Tripoli is violent clashes are a combination of anxiety, discomfort, and fear,” Sheikh Yasser, a refugee from Syria and a leader of the LCC operating in Lebanon, told The Daily Star.
“We have unknown fates, unknown futures,” Yasser said.