The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Lebanon

Displaced Allawis find little relief in impoverished north

Hussein Mohammed and his family fled their home in Jebel Mohsen for the Allawi village of Hisa, in Akkar. The area is one of the poorest in Lebanon, and aid agencies have yet to provide any relief to those displaced by the fighting in Tripoli.
(Hugh Macleod/IRIN)

They may have been uprooted “more than 40 times” over the years since Lebanon’s Civil War began in 1975, but Hussein Mohammed and his family say they have rarely felt as threatened as they do today.

“When Israel did air strikes [in 2006] they dropped leaflets warning us to leave the village. These Salafis are trying to drive us out of the country,” said Mohammed, a member of the Allawi sect, an off-shoot of Shia Islam, referring to followers of an extremist doctrine of Sunni Islam.

Since May, long-standing historical grievances between the Allawis of Tripoli’s Jebel Mohsen neighbourhood and Sunnis living in adjacent Bab al-Tabbaneh have morphed into an intractable armed conflict, spurred on by political cleavages in Beirut and a rising tide of Sunni radicalism in the country.

For Mohammed, his wife and three children it meant fleeing rockets and machine guns that have damaged their home in Jebel Mohsen, amid cries of “jihad against the infidels” from local mosques which have terrified their children and left them fearing for their future.

“Is killing women and children jihad?” asked Mohammed’s wife, Fatima Ali Hamoud, her face anxious with worry lines. Since May, at least 23 people have been killed, hundreds injured and several thousand Allawi and Sunni families displaced.

For Mohammed’s family, finding safety is just one of the challenges they face.

For while Sunni families displaced from Bab al-Tabbaneh have been hosted in state schools in Tripoli and supported with food and medicine, the sectarian nature of the conflict has meant nearly all Allawi families have fled north to Akkar, one of Lebanon’s poorest regions.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which has been leading aid efforts in the northern town of Tripoli, says that nearly two weeks after the flare-up in fighting began, no international aid agency has yet delivered relief to the hundreds of Allawi families in Akkar.

Mohammed Ali Hussein, mayor of Hisa, one of 15 predominantly Allawi villages in Akkar to where residents of Jebel Mohsen have fled since May, told IRIN he estimated around 500 Allawi families had had their homes damaged and perhaps half of all Jebel Mohsen’s 50,000 residents had been displaced.


Photo: Hugh Macleod/IRIN
A resident of Jebel Mohsen displays his tattoos of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, underscoring the strong political affiliation many Allawis in Lebanon feel with Syria and the opposition

Fleeing to Syria

Those without friends or family to stay with in Akkar have crossed the nearby border into Syria, where Allawis form a large part of the ruling classes. Those left behind find themselves in a region ill-equipped to care for them.

“A huge number of families left for Syria because we have no capacity to help them,” said Hussein. “Our municipal budget went down from US$165 million to less than $100m in the past four years. We have 70 percent unemployment. Since independence [in 1943] no-one has paid attention to Akkar.”

The destruction of Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp last year was also a major blow to the local economy, which relied on accessing the tax-free cheaper goods sold inside the camp.

Mohammed’s family is now staying with his brother, swelling the family to 13 people living in three rooms. “We’re missing everything: food, baby milk, medicine,” said Fatima Ali Hamoud, whose youngest daughter is eight months old.

UNICEF last week asked the mayors of the 15 Allawi villages to provide figures on the number of displaced families and their needs, but the agency has yet to receive a reply.

Failure of farming

The economic decline and political mismanagement in Akkar is clearly illustrated by the failure of farming in a region rich in fertile soil and irrigation.

Mohammed Mahmoud, a rugged Allawi with the distinctive blue eyes of his community, used to work the land growing potatoes, the majority of which would usually be purchased by the state-run agricultural wholesaler.

But in recent seasons the state-run firm has been buying less and at lower prices. Where a kilogram of potatoes could once be sold for 33 US cents or more, today, farmers in Hisa say, they go for six US cents, or are sold as livestock feed.

Mahmoud gave up farming with debts hanging over him of $15,000, but found money to pay them off and support his family by smuggling diesel fuel from Syria, where it is heavily subsidised, into Lebanon, where it can be sold for nearly triple the price.

“I’ve now paid off most of my debts and have decided to move my family to Syria,” said Mahmoud. “I want to enrol the children in Syrian schools. It’s much cheaper to live there and we can be treated just the same as everybody else.”

hm/ar/cb


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.

Join