Syrian refugees in eastern Lebanon looked on helplessly as a blaze in the al-Jarahiyeh camp in the Beqaa Valley killed five people and burned more than half of the 168 tents in the camp to the ground on Monday in pictures published by Beqaa News.

It was not immediately clear what started the fire, but “because of the presence of flammable materials like the cloth of the tents along with wood and gas canisters, it spread to the rest of the tents,” Amani Riyad, a Beqaa-based Syrian activist told Syria Direct on Tuesday, adding that she spoke to the camp’s administrator the same day.  

Despite the response of fire vehicles from the nearby town of Saadnayel, much of the 1,200-person camp was destroyed, with those displaced by the blaze moved to a communal tent constructed on Tuesday by the Union of Relief Associations in Lebanon.

International and local organizations have raised concerns about the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in recent months, with health and safety concerns posing a risk to those in the camps, as well as the threat of ongoing arrest campaigns by the Lebanese armed forces.

“Refugees live in difficult health conditions, with food and water coming through donations and aid,” says Riyad, adding that “residents work for meager salaries to make a living, [and rely] on child labor to secure their livelihood.”

The latest UNHCR estimates place the number of registered refugees in Lebanon at nearly 1.2 million, with 400,000 in the Beqaa Valley alone.

The increasing threat of spillover fighting at the border with Syria has led the government to take an increasingly aggressive stance towards the refugees.

Last Monday, the Lebanese army arrested 90 Syrian refugees from several areas in the Bekaa Valley on charges including affiliation with “terrorist organizations” and expired residency permits.

“The raids are almost daily,” Abu Assad al-Homsi, a Syrian refugee activist living in northern Lebanon told Syria Direct in an interview last month, as security forces suspect Syrians of hiding “ammunition, weapons and guns.”

Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

Photo courtesy of Beqaa News