Amid Strains, Syrian Refugees Are Facing Curfews In Lebanon : Parallels The fragile country now hosts some 1 million Syrian refugees. Some towns have set up civilian volunteers to enforce curfews on the refugees, leading to rising tensions and some cases of abuse.

Amid Strains, Syrian Refugees Are Facing Curfews In Lebanon

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/370329263/371253717" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There are about a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon and their welcome is wearing thin. Lebanon is smaller than Connecticut, with a population of four million. The Lebanese are now starting to impose curfews on the Syrians enforced by local volunteers.

NPR's Alice Fordham visited a town of about 4,000 people that's cracking down on hundreds of newcomers.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: We're on a balcony overlooking olive trees and orchards in a town called Ebrin. It's Chadi's balcony. I'm not going to tell you his last name for reasons I'll explain later. He works in the capital, Beirut, but commutes an hour north to the quiet in this town that feels like a village.

CHADI: Yeah around 4,000 and most of them are relatives.

FORDHAM: And all Christian. I see Christmas trees, Virgin Mary statues - so far, so cozy. Except, under the balcony there's new structures - cinderblock, tarp and corrugated metal.

CHADI: Yeah, I think around 55 meters away or something, many families.

FORDHAM: Those are houses that were here before, or they built them themselves?

CHADI: No, they just built it illegally.

FORDHAM: Chadi reckons 600 Syrians live here now, mostly refugees from the war just over the border. Some families, others, single men.

CHADI: We are worried about the 20, 25, 30 years old.

FORDHAM: We're close to the city of Tripoli, where Islamist extremism spills over from Syria, causing violence. When Syrian men started buzzing around on motorbikes at night, the town got nervous.

CHADI: We said no for Syrians. We don't want Syrians anymore.

FORDHAM: He doesn't mean kicking them out, just not making them feel too welcome. He was pleased to see the local authority impose an 8 p.m. curfew on Syrians a few months back.

CHADI: They are not comfortable. The Syrians are not comfortable like before.

FORDHAM: And when the municipality called for volunteers to patrol, he signed up. He took me with him one recent evening. (Car door slams). He asks me not to use his last name because he fears being targeted by extremists.

(To unidentified man) Alice, nice to meet you.

We're at the municipality office. A policeman assigns about a dozen mostly middle-aged volunteers different parts of the town. Most don't carry weapons, but keep them handy, maybe in their car. This is happening in Muslim areas as well as Christian. Human Rights Watch counted at least 45 curfews on Syrians in Lebanon. Country director Nadim Houry says they're often brutally enforced.

NADIM HOURY: We've documented beatings in some cases. In some cases they just tell them to go home, but in many other cases there's beatings. And more importantly, it's sort of feeding a climate of impunity.

FORDHAM: Houry says this is worrying here, where a civil war ended 25 years ago.

HOURY: Because we're seeing a return of armed self-help groups, which we had hoped we had turned the page on with the end of the civil war.

FORDHAM: But what these men are doing is legal. For the last two years, local police have been allowed to recruit help.

In Ebrin, the policeman leading the patrol is this guy, Jean Raad.

JEAN RAAD: (Speaking foreign language).

FORDHAM: He says that now with security problems all over the country, the police and army are stretched.

RAAD: (Speaking foreign language).

FORDHAM: And Syrians are allowed out at night if it's urgent, and they're never beaten.

But the Syrians here aren't happy. We reach Ammar al-Hussein, a father of six, by phone.

AMMAR AL-HUSSEIN: (Speaking foreign language).

FORDHAM: There's no way we can go out, he says. If anyone sees you outside after 8 p.m. they'll beat you up. He says he knows two or three men who were beaten.

AL-HUSSEIN: (Speaking foreign language).

FORDHAM: It feels like prison and people are scared of the authorities, so of course they don't report anything. Chadi, my guide to the patrol, says Syrians tell him it's fine.

CHADI: I don't know if they said it and they are like, 100 percent sure about what they're saying, or because they're scared.

FORDHAM: And yeah, he feels bad sometimes.

CHADI: It's not nice to control the freedom of people, but the situation is bad in the area, in the whole area.

FORDHAM: I put the situation to a representative of the interior ministry, Khalil Jebara. He says police needed help.

KHALIL JEBARA: I agree that Lebanon has a very bloody history of civilians with guns. I agree that there is a very thin line, that when we separate between municipal police and basically having locals holding guns.

FORDHAM: But at least this way, the authorities are involved. There's training, gun licenses. It's not ideal, but he reckons the alternative - effectively, the re-emergence of local militias - would be worse.

Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.