25 January 2013
"There are families of 20 members, including eight children, living in this place”, says Nawras Al-Sahly, a 35-year-old Palestine refugee from Yarmouk, Syria. Having fled his home, he is now living in Beddawi, a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
Nawras is one of over 20,000 Palestine refugees from Syria that have fled to the over-crowded refugee camps of neighbouring Lebanon, and been met with harsh conditions.
Since the outset of the Syrian crisis, UNRWA has been providing emergency help for Palestine refugees coming from Syria; but a lack of funds is severely hampering the Agency’s ability to help those in need.
Last week, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi warned
that UNRWA had received less than five per cent of the funding needed.
The main breadwinner in the family, Nawras had a regular job in Syria as a house painter. As a refugee in Lebanon, he receives from UNRWA a regular donation of USD40 and a coupon of USD25 to make essential purchases. He says he it is impossible to provide for his family or live in any sort of comfort.
“The house is too small to accommodate us; we have no personal privacy. Many problems and family disputes are caused by this overcrowding”, he says.
Many Palestinian families from Syria cannot afford to pay rent in more expensive Lebanon. A relative in the camp helps to cover Nawras’s USD300 house rent, he says; the cheapest that he could find. Other refugees are living with Palestinian host families, who are themselves suffering from poverty.
In Shatila camp, Beirut, three entire families are sheltering in a room with a makeshift kitchen. Their host is an elderly Palestinian woman who fled her home in historic Palestine, “1000 years ago”, she says. She is hosting her guests because their families hosted her in Syria during the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s. “It’s time for me to pay them back; I can’t leave them while they are displaced”.
She is not hopeful for the future of the Palestine refugee community. “I’ve experienced wars, displacement, hunger, misery”, she says. “It just continues”.
“Who can help us?”
One of the most vulnerable communities in Syria, Palestine refugees have been seriously affected by events on the ground; most now rely on UNRWA as their sole means of support. Several UNRWA schools within Syria are currently acting as a last place of refuge for 9,000 people.
For those Palestine refugees who have fled to Lebanon, the main problem is accommodation, Grandi told reporters during a visit to the country last week. “They rent small, cramped, very unsanitary premises without running water, without ventilation, without electricity," he said.
Residents told Grandi of their urgent need for proper housing, food and other items such as blankets, and cash assistance. “Lebanon is too expensive; we simply cannot afford life here”, said one woman.
UNRWA has distributed food vouchers and cash assistance to all Palestine refugees from Syria in Lebanon; assistance that will be repeated regularly, subject to the availability of funds. Some UNRWA schools in Lebanon are acting as information centres for young Palestinians from Syria, as well as putting on extra classes, explains a headteacher in Saida, southern Lebanon.
Back in Beddawi camp, Nawras says he is not sure what the future holds for his family if his conditions, or the level of assistance, don’t change. “We are helpless; who can help us to overcome this ordeal?” he wonders out loud.
“I call on donor countries to help UNRWA to alleviate our suffering."
Palestine refugees from Syria