Syrian Refugees Face Price Gouging by Lebanese Landlords

Article Summary
The surge of Syrian refugees who fled their country after recent fighting in Damascus has led to skyrocketing property prices in Lebanese border areas. Samer al-Husseini reports that many Lebanese apartment owners are taking advantage of the influx of refugees to demand astronomical rent.

A few meters away from the Lebanese General Security headquarters in the Masnaa region bordering Syria, a young man distributes leaflets to Syrian cars arriving in Lebanon. These leaflets include advertisements for apartments in Bhamdoun, for $150 per day. Most of the families arriving from across the border, be they Syrian or Lebanese, poor or rich, are worried about securing their housing situation.

Many displaced Syrian families secured a place to live before they left Syria by contacting relatives and friends in Lebanon. This mainly applies to the rich however, who may not mind paying huge sums of money to rent out apartments. Some of these apartments can cost upwards of $7,000 per month.

Despite the decrease in border traffic between Syria and Lebanon, which comes as a result of the lower number of Syrian families entering Lebanon, hundreds of Syrian families are still struggling to overcome the obstacles and financial hurdles to find shelter. A growing number of displaced Syrians are saying that they are being scammed every time they try to rent an apartment.

A member of one of these families said that he paid $75,000 to rent an apartment in Ashrafieh for a year. He transferred the money to the bank account of the apartment’s owner, a Lebanese individual living in France.

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It should be noted that the number and percentage of people coming from Syria has increased over the past two days [July 21, 22] relative to the first three days [July 18-20] that followed the bombing in Damascus.

For the poor and middle classes, the tragedy of displacement grows day by day. Some of those displaced have found nowhere to go and have ended up sleeping on the floors of mosques or schools in the Bekaa, which opened their doors to the refugees.

As voiced during a meeting of the deputies of East and West Bekaa, which was held in the headquarters of the Coordination Committee of the Future Movement in Taanayel, residents in the Bekaa are warning about the effects of this phenomenon and how it will impact Bekaa school children next year.

Fayyad Haidar, head of the Central Bekaa Municipalities Union said: "It is important to be mindful of the issue of opening the schools for displaced people, whose numbers are rising day after day. This could threaten the reopening of these schools for Bekaa students because the schools are overcrowded with hundreds of Syrian families.”

In Masnaa, where a Future Movement tent has been set up to receive the displaced Syrians, some openly talked about their support for the Syrian regime. [Others] told reporters that "the movement of Syrian displaced peoples to Lebanon will rescue its tourism industry," and have called on those in the area to be thankful for what they called "Syrian Tourism."

On the other hand, displaced Syrian families here remain silent. The same applies to most of the families coming to Lebanon — they refuse to talk to reporters or appear on camera.

In a related development, humanitarian organizations, civil society organizations and partisan and political movements in Bekaa villages called for quick intervention on the part of the Lebanese state to help accommodate the displaced families.

Many representatives from associations concerned with the affairs of displaced Syrians complained about an untenable humanitarian situation out of the associations’ logistical and financial capacities. Sheikh Amin Al-Sharqieh from Dar Al-Fatwa in the Bekaa, who is in charge of the displaced Syrians issue, talked about a "humanitarian situation that carries a lot of risks and human tragedy."

Sharqieh said that there are "families, children and women who only have car seats to sleep on, or a temporary domicile, even though some public schools have been opened for the displaced."

During the past three days, Dar Al-Fatwa registered 36 new displaced Syrian families, adding to the 3060 families that have already been registered. These families opted to be located in Baalbek, Hermel, West Bekaa and Rashaya. Hussein Solh, the Future Movement Coordinator in Baalbek, said that 35 new Syrian families have arrived in the town.

In Zahle, the number of displaced Syrian  families — who are mostly Catholic — has increased, as indicated by Catholic Bishop Issam Darwish. In charge of the dioceses of Forzol, Zahle and the Bekaa, Bishop Darwish works night and day to secure homes for the displaced Syrians. Families who opt to live in the city choose to reside in either hotels or furnished apartments, in addition to religious social complexes under the archdiocese in Zahle. In addition, some families are sheltered by their relatives in the city.

Zahle is hosting more than a dozen Christian families that have come from Damascus in the past week. It is impossible to determine the exact number of Syrian Christians who have fled to Zahle, because most of those who have arrived have some relation or connection to families in Zahle. The families in this town are working hard to deal with the displaced guests. These Syrian Christians have not registered in the Archbishoprics’ records, which would allow them to receive assistance, as most of them are wealthy. Members of these families are temporarily staying at hotels in Chtaura and Zahle as they look for houses to rent in nearby villages, Beirut or other regions in Mount Lebanon. Information has been spread among these families regarding price gouging, with one Syrian stating that the monthly rent for 120 square meter house in Bhamdoun had reached $6,000.

Hotel occupancy rates in Chtaura increased to 30% in the hours following the bombing of the National Security building in Damascus. Jihad Slim, the general director of Chtaura Park Hotel, confirmed that the occupancy level of the hotel currently exceeded 80%, compared to just 50% last week. According to Slim, Syrian families account for more than 50% of the hotel’s occupancy. On the first day of the inflow, the hotel decided to lower the room’s regular rates at this time of year by 35% for the benefit of the Syrian families.

Slim mentioned that the Syrian families’ length of stay in the hotel ranged from three to five days, as it is a temporary measure before they find a house to rent. A number of displaced Syrians said that rent had doubled or even tripled for some houses and apartments in the Bekaa villages. Some families are finding that hotel rooms are less expensive to rent than apartments.

Upon the invitation of the Future Movement’s Coordination Committee in the Central Bekaa, a meeting was held to discuss recent developments caused by the massive influx of displaced Syrians into the region. The meeting was attended by local members of parliament, municipality heads, union leaders and mayors. In a statement issued after the meeting, the Future bloc’s coordinator in the Bekaa, Ayoub Kazoun, placed all of the blame on “the self-distancing government for not aiding the displaced Syrians and not finding an effective way to provide them with housing, food and medical assistance.”

The attendees at the conference emphasized that “the Lebanese government is responsible for protecting the displaced Syrians from any attack made by the Syrian regime's agents.” The participants in the meeting praised “the spontaneous generosity and humanitarian support of the Bekaa people for their displaced Syrian brothers in their plight. This response reflects the deep ties linking the Lebanese and Syrian peoples, who both suffered from the Syrian regime's crimes for nearly five decades.”

The participants agreed to establish a follow-up committee consisting of MPs, representatives from political forces, civil society, municipalities and mayors. The committee will follow up on the developments on the ground as well as the performance of official actors in aiding their Syrian brothers. They finally expressed their thanks to “the international, Arab and local associations, which have contributed to the aid of displaced Syrians, and called on them to make concerted efforts to face the current and dangerous situation.”

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Found in: zahle, syrian displaced, syrian crisis, syrian, refugees, price gouging, masnaa border area, lebanon, human rights, housing prices, housing market, economic, bekaa
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