Lebanon, displaced persons
March 24th, 2007

The return of the Displaced to their cities and villages of origin in Mount Lebanon might well be an endeavor that comes too close to a utopian project. Indeed, the populations concerned do not appear to have yet experienced the expected improvements in their daily lives. To an observer traveling along the roads of Lebanon's mountains, the views are quite sublime.

Seen from afar, the allure of the mountain villages reveal an impression of "renaissance" where almost everything seems to have been rebuilt. Surprisingly, one might even be led to believe that their inhabitants have returned to a state of relative harmony. Once you find yourself in the heart of the villages however, those very villages that were once stained with blood, you realize how deceptive the views are from afar. Up close, you are faced with skeletons of former concrete buildings and numerous houses under reconstruction. Discussions with the few local residents you find there expose a sense of despondency and general dissatisfaction with their situations, even though some have already been generously compensated. According to official figures, 85 % of all cases have been closed so far. Official reconciliation has been achieved in all except one area and two remaining villages. Additionally rare are the people, from all communities, who live year long in their actual villages of origin. The reasons behind this are as diverse as: the lack of job opportunities, schools, hospitals, public and social services. In summary, the core issues remain the absence of these services that a modern and democratic state should be granting its citizens.

In this context, we have witnessed the departure of Syrian forces, leaving a marked landscape void of what was once there, contributing to the desolated scenery and deteriorated houses. This turn of events has raised again the question of how to go about the mission of relocating the Displaced, in addition to repairing the damage that has been caused, while avoiding the pitfalls of the past. Recent history in Lebanon is a constant reminder for us that negotiations held between communitarian leaders have only resulted in pompous official reconciliations that do not suffice a new start for the humble citizens of this country.

Back in 1992, when the Ministry for Displaced People was set up, the government promised 20 million Lebanese Lira (about 13 300 US Dollars) for the construction of a house and 5 million Lebanese Lira (about 3 300 US Dollars) for renovations.   These amounts were recently increased to 10 million and 30 million (about 6 600 and 20 000 US Dollars).

Not everyone asked or was able to ask for indemnities and as a result the funds were unfairly distributed. Some people took the first money installment and used it for something entirely different than rebuilding their houses. According to some villagers, your chances of receiving the money were greater if you belonged to a certain political party others, claimed the opposite.

Many families have taken over the apartments or houses of their neighbors who fled the mountains during the war and haven't set foot since. The current occupiers, who live in the fear of being evicted, are waiting for some financial compensation to move out and rebuild their own homes.

In the meantime, living conditions are pretty dire: most people occupying houses have no electricity, running water or sewage system. The half deserted villages in which they live don't have schools or any kind of public transportation to link them to nearby villages, let alone Beirut.

Added to the situation, animosity still runs high in the mountains despite the 1990 general amnesty law. Relations between the Christian and Druze communities are not completely mended. "We cannot forget" or "we do not want to forget" is a common stance in villages where reconciliation efforts have failed.
  

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