Finding the way home

True story accompanying image

Back in the 1970s, Ziad had a home and a livelihood. He lived and worked with his family in Brih, a village not far from Beirut, Lebanon. They had lived there for generations.

Then the civil war came.

Fleeing the conflict, Ziad and his family left the village along with their neighbours. When they were finally able to return, they found they had no home to go to. A new family had occupied their land.

It’s a common scene in the country, where 600,000 people were displaced by the civil war, one in four by the 2006 war with Israel, and further thousands by recent sectarian conflict and attacks on refugee camps.

Situations like these can easily descend into bitter land conflicts. Aiming to avoid this, the government created a national ministry for displacement, providing the authority with public money to help return people to their homes peacefully and compensate their losses.

Money was allocated to compensate those who had been displaced from Brih. Yet while people from nearby villages received the money, most of those from Brih did not. 

When Ziad applied for his money in early 2014, he says officials told him there were no funds available. They claimed the money had already been issued.  Which raised the question – where had the money gone?

Ever since its creation, the ministry has been plagued with accusations of abuse. Back in 1999 the general director was investigated for paying out salaries for employees who had left, and using official funds to purchase a car and other equipment.

Since then there have been reports of politicians using the fund to pay off voters ahead of elections, or citizens fraudulently claiming displacement or damage to homes, denying support to those genuinely and desperately in need.

Ziad contacted our legal advice centre for the victims and witnesses of corruption. It’s not the first complaint we have received about the ministry. Acting on behalf of claimants, our centre contacts institutions directly to follow up on requests.

“We may never know exactly how the funds were misspent, or why some villages receive compensation and others lag behind,” says Rachel, who works at our centre. “What we do know is that when officials see people are not alone, they very often start to act.”

We joined those calling for action to be taken. “We contacted the ministry to enquire about the claim, and within hours the minister herself called our hotline to speak with our legal advisor,” says Rachel.

We advised Ziad and the other villagers on how to pursue their application. Two weeks later, the villagers and the ministry had reached an agreement on the compensation.”

More than 30 years since fighting displaced Ziad and his neighbours, the village of Brih finally reached a point of reconciliation. The celebrations they held to mark the agreement attracted the attention of national media.

Since then, the families of Brih have started receiving the money they need to rebuild their lives. Now we’re working to ensure all of the families get paid, and help others follow in their footsteps. 

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