SIDON, Lebanon: Relations between the Future Movement and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya are growing increasingly tense in the southern city of Sidon over differing opinions on providing accommodation to Syrian refugees, with MP Bahia Hariri slamming what she says is the first step toward creating camps in the city.Sources in Sidon close to the issue say that the relationship between the two parties is becoming strained as the availability of housing options in the city is decreasing.
After a union of eight groups in the city – including Al-Jamaa – helped to construct prefabricated houses on private property on the outskirts of the city to provide free accommodations to several refugee families, Hariri requested that the refugees be moved back into the city itself.
The mufti of Sidon, Sheikh Salim Sousan, supports Hariri’s position, The Daily Star has learned.
The head of the union of the eight groups, Kamal Kozbar, told The Daily Star that they had no intention to establish refugee camps either in Sidon or on its outskirts.
“The whole issue has been exaggerated,” he said. “We have provided accommodations in prefabricated houses on private land to families who could not find shelter. That is all.
“We are providing them with food, mattresses, blankets and medicine, as with thousands of other refugees, and this is the least we can offer to them at a time when the Lebanese government, and especially the Higher Relief Committee and Social Affairs Ministry, haven’t given them even one loaf of bread,” Kozbar added.
“We have pleaded several times that shelter should be provided for the refugees because the situation has reached a red line.”
Sources from Al-Jamaa have said that Hariri has told them she believed the formation of camps for Syrian refugees would have huge ramifications for Sidon, and would not be in the city’s best interests.
The sources added that “whoever stands against providing aid or shelter to the Syrian refugees should join the chorus of [Energy Minister] Gibran Bassil, who demanded that the borders with Syria be closed and that Lebanon should not receive any more refugees.”
There are currently 283,160 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UNHCR, or in the process of doing so. There are likely thousands more who have not yet registered.
Al-Jamaa sources added that “the Lebanese state should have erected camps for the Syrian refugees in the Bekaa [Valley] before they were dispersed across Lebanon, and we, as a union, will not spare any effort to provide help to the refugees now that they have reached Sidon.”
Bassam Hamoud, a party official in Sidon, said that “the refugees from Syria are our responsibility until they return to their cities and villages, and we will spare no effort to provide them with everything they need ... especially shelter, regardless of all the alleged problems which certain parties are associating with this issue.”
Al-Jamaa is considering helping provide refugees with accommodations itself. “Otherwise they would have to sleep on the streets,” Hamoud added, saying that would be unacceptable, “especially after the Lebanese state abandoned its duty to provide shelter to the refugees, as other countries in the region have done, due to the government’s fake policy of disassociation.”
There are around 4,000 Syrian refugee families living in Sidon and its Palestinian refugee camps. Many are living in rented accommodations or staying with relatives. Dozens are residing in buildings still under construction, and often in dire conditions.
Recently, rumors have been circulating that the Future Movement and the Hariri family will use the Kfarfalous complex – a university space built by Rafik Hariri that was destroyed in the 1982 Israeli invasion – near the village of Jezzine to build camps for Syrian refugees, but this has been denied by a party representative.
General coordinator of the Future Movement in the south Nasser Hamoud said in a statement: “These are all lies and political hypocrisy. These rumors aim to create rifts between the Lebanese and instigate sectarian tensions in Sidon.”
He said the southern city already had the largest Palestinian refugee camp and that “the city’s officials are doing everything they can for the refugee crisis. As a party we prefer to provide whatever refugee families living here need, and that aid is better than hosting refugees in groupings, to best preserve their health, well-being and dignity.”