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Middle East

Tent-dwelling Syrian refugees forced into debt by high rents in Lebanon


When she fled the bloodshed Syria with her five children Ferdaws didn’t expect to have to pay live in a tent. Her sons scavenge for scrap metal - the only income the family has - but she has been unable to avoid falling into debt. 

Forced to pay inflated rents and largely fend for themselves the 37-year-old from Hama is not alone, many Syrian refugees in Lebanon say they are facing eviction and racking up debts that they cannot afford to pay back, straining the country’s already struggling economy. Refugees visited by The Independent pay as much as 150,000 Lebanese pounds (£66) a month for the land on which they pitch their tents as Lebanese landowners cash in on the influx.  

Abandoned buildings, caves and garages have become homes, while makeshift encampments have mushroomed. With the country bursting at the seams the Lebanese government is now considering setting up official refugee camps - previously a political "red line" because of the country's past experience with Palestinian camps. 

Ferdaws borrowed some of the 300,000 pounds she needed for the plastic and wood to construct her modest dwelling in the village of Saadnayel in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley from a relative, she doesn’t yet know how she will manage the 500,000 pounds a year in rent. “I’ve asked him to be patient,” she says. For every sack of old aluminium her sons collects the family can buy two loaves of bread, but the metal is becoming more scarce. 

“I tell my children to try not to eat too much,” she says. She also owes 120,000 to local shops, who have let her buy on credit. 

“Every single family we meet in the field is in financial difficulty and it’s having an impact on the local community,”  says Patricia Mouamar, from World Vision, which is assisting refugees in the area. 

In a nearby shop Diah Beiruti pulls out her ledger book. She is owed 4m pounds by refugees, which in turn has put her 3.5m pounds in debt to her suppliers. But still she goes on lending. 

“If a family comes to you and says ‘I want bread’, would you have the heart to say no?” she says. “If I don’t get the money back I’ll be suffocated, I’m scared.” 

In a nearby half-constructed building Kaisser, a 32-year-old from Homs and his pregnant wife and three children live in a single room with a bathroom-cum-kitchen for 200,000 pounds a month - the rent has just been raised by 25 percent. Last month he covered bills by selling a five month fuel coupon handed out from an aid agency on the black market. Now he’s thinking of leaving for a tent, but needs cash to cover the materials. 

“It’s haram to pay this much,” he says, as the wind whistles though the plastic that covers the windows. The landlord Mohammed Morsil, who works as a truck driver, defends his decision to put up the rents, claiming he had taken a $20,000 loan himself to brick up walls after refugees requested to move in. 

“There’s no work anymore, people are calling me asking for money,” he says.