News / Middle East

Palestinians in Lebanon Hold Little Hope for Reconstruction

Three years after the war between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam has ended, most of the Nahr el-Bared camp remains in ruins, 05 Nov 2010
Three years after the war between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam has ended, most of the Nahr el-Bared camp remains in ruins, 05 Nov 2010
Heather Murdock

They call the temporary housing "barracks" or "containers."  Some of the two-story blocks of rooms are made of concrete, and they are decorated.  Others are made of tin.

For more than three years, about 10,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been living in the barracks, after their camp was destroyed in a three-month-long battle between the Lebanese Army and an Islamic militant group known as Fatah al-Islam.

“This house is for animals,” said Ahmed Abueid, as he poked his head into a single metal room that houses six Palestinian refugees on the outskirts of the Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon.   “Animals cannot live like this.  We want to go to our houses in old camp.  Quickly."

Abueid is one of about 30,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon displaced by the war that left 400 people dead and the camp demolished.  Most of the camp's buildings are still heaps of gray rubble, riddled with bullet holes.

Abueid said he was promised a new home after his building was flattened in 2007, but now has little hope that the camp will be rebuilt.

Families say in the over-crowded temporary housing, their children are often sick.
Families say in the over-crowded temporary housing, their children are often sick.

In the barracks, displaced families say they rely on the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency for small amounts of food and medicine.  In neighboring towns, displaced families receive $150 a month to help pay the rent.

But the United Nations says the families may be cut off in the next few months for lack of funding.  The agency has not been able to raise any of the $18 million needed to sustain these basic services in 2011.

Agency spokesperson Hoda Samra Souaiby said if help does not arrive soon, families will stop receiving aid before the end of the year.

"If the funding does not come,” she said, “more than 3,400 families would be left without rental subsidies, of course, and the whole relief operations will have to stop.  But I do not think we will reach this stage, and I certainly hope that we would not reach this stage."

The reconstruction process has long been marred by delays and lack of funding.  The United Nations says it has only enough money to rebuild about 25 percent of the camp.

Souaiby said there is no way of knowing when more of the camp might be completed, because the agency still needs $209 million for the project.  

"Previous camps that have been destroyed in Lebanon were never rebuilt,” she added.  “This in itself is a challenge.  It is the reconstruction of a whole city, a whole town."

Nancy's mother says her temporary apartment is infested with mice or rats. When she was 2-years-old, Nancy was bitten several times in the face.
Nancy's mother says her temporary apartment is infested with mice or rats. When she was 2-years-old, Nancy was bitten several times in the face.

The apartments in the barracks are cramped, leaky and sometimes infested with mice and bugs.  Teenage girls are sometimes forced to share rooms with their brothers, which is considered shameful by many Palestinians.  They say the food, medicine and small cash subsidies they receive from the United Nations are not nearly enough, and work is scarce.

Those who do find jobs with construction companies rebuilding the camp say the pay is low, and often late.

Mahmoud Getawi is a displaced refugee, working on reconstruction of the camp.  He often has to wait weeks for payments.  When he asked the company why, his supervisors blamed international donors who pledged funds but have not yet delivered it.  Construction is often halted when the companies do not have money.

Getawi said he thinks his new home might be finished when his children, one of which is unborn, are adults.

“Maybe they will be for my children,” he said, laughing.  “Not for me.”

The United Nations estimates as many as 60 percent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are un-employed or underemployed.  Even though there are several generations of Palestinians living in Lebanon, they are considered foreigners and need special permits to work.  They are banned from working in many professions, like medicine, engineering, and law.  They cannot buy or inherit property.

Wafa Abdulla Abuaudi said three years ago, after the war, international organizations provided enough food for the refugees to survive.

“After one year, they stopped,” she said, huddled in a concrete doorway in one of the barracks.

Now, every three months she gets enough food to feed her family for two weeks and has no hope that she will ever move into a new house in the camp.  The first buildings might get finished, she said, but after that, the money will be gone, and the international community will forget about Nahr el-Bared.

Other women who were born and raised in the Nahr el-Bared camp, and have never been to Palestine, joked about the reconstruction. "We'll get to move back to Palestine,” one woman said, “before we are able to move into those houses.”

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