Amid the trauma, UNRWA in Lebanon provides hope to refugees from Syria

23 April 2013

23 April 2013
Lebanon

“There is no future. There is no hope. There is a lot of sadness here,” says Hoda Abdel Fateh, a Palestine refugee who escaped the violence in Yarmouk Camp in the Syrian capital, Damascus in December. She, her husband, Hamad Habib, and five children fled under sniper fire and now live in a tiny first floor space in Beirut’s squalid Shatila Camp. It has just one room, a kitchen and a bathroom, which they rent for USD 250 per month. “I would do anything to change this situation, even work as a servant”, she says.

So desperate is Hoda that a month ago she sneaked back into Syria alone. Leaving her husband with the children, she braved the terrifying journey back to her home to pick up the few belongings she could carry. “Everything was destroyed”, she says, recounting what she calls her “wonderful life” before her second flight to Lebanon.

"Who can help her?"

Her husband used to be a designer with the sportswear firm, Adidas but now has no work. Their son, who has found a job as a waiter, is the family’s sole provider. They have received a “one off” cash distribution from UNRWA of USD 290. “But it just isn’t enough”, admits Hamad Habib, confessing awkwardly that the family eats just one meal a day. In addition, their teenage daughter is traumatized to the point of speechlessness and has fainting fits. “Who can help her?”, he asks with an air of paternal desperation.

This family of seven are among some four thousand Palestine refugees who have arrived in Shatila Camp since the fighting in Syria started over two years ago. The camp population has swollen from 17,000 to 21,000 in that time, putting huge strain on UNRWA services. The camp’s only school has had to take in 170 new students bringing the school size to 700. “We are managing, but only just,” says head teacher, Sahar Dabdoob, “with class sizes of over forty children in some cases. And community health is suffering”. The workload of the nearby UNRWA health clinic has increased by 35 per cent.

A sense of hope

According to UNRWA’s Camp Services Officer, Nasser Saleh, at the moment, about 30 new families arrive in the camp each week. “Every Monday we are confronted with mountains of garbage and there is the additional health threat from the camp’s crumbling sewage system. We have just one small dumper truck to deal with this and we need more water and more fuel. In response to this environmental health threat, we have employed two more sanitation workers and there are now 14 serving the entire camp. But the beneficiaries are naturally dissatisfied and there have been two peaceful demonstrations at my office”.

“The humanity and dedication of UNRWA staffers in Lebanon like Nasser and Sahar Dabdood are humbling and inspiring”, says UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness. “UNRWA is providing a sense of hope amid the despair, but money is short and with 40,000 Palestine refugees from Syria in Lebanon the numbers continue to grow. People need to understand that the Syria crisis is not just about what is happening inside Syria. There is huge need in neighbouring countries and unless support to UNRWA picks up, the desperation in Lebanon’s forgotten camps can only grow”.

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