BEIRUT: The Palestinian Return Centre, based in the United Kingdom, and the Palestinian NGO, 302 for Refugee Rights, based in Lebanon, organized a two-day event for journalists of several nationalities to visit Palestinian refugee camps around Lebanon.
The packed program kicked off on Monday with a visit to Burj al Barajneh camp located in Beirut.
The group of Lebanese, British, Italian, Scottish, and French journalists toured the camp and talked to locals along the way about the hardships they are facing specifically after the American administration’s recent cuts to UNRWA, the UN Refugee Agency.
The group also visited older generation refugees who were living in Palestine prior to 1948 and the mass the exodus of Palestinians and discussed with them what it means to be a refugee in Lebanon during the current economic crisis that Lebanon is facing.
Third generation refugees discussed the challenges of being born a refugee, and the difficulties they face in trying to find employment in Lebanon, especially that Palestinian refugees are not allowed, as per the Lebanese law, to work in 72 categories of jobs.
The delegation visited Shatila camp, also located in Beirut, and met with ‘Beit Atfal Assumoud’ which offers services to Palestinian women such as embroidery programs, and vocational education for men.
Day Two: Entailed a visit to Nahr El Bared camp, a camp that was severely destructed in 2007 after war broke out between terrorists residing in the camp, and the Lebanese army.
The group visited Mohamad Wehbe, an old refugee in the camp who told his story of fleeing the camp in 2007 when the war broke out.
“I fled the camp to live in a school in Tripoli where five families lived in one room. I remember being terrified and leaving the camp at 8 pm in my home slippers. The fighting had started, and I had to run for my life,” he said.
Wehbe spoke of the dire conditions the refugees are living in after UNRWA’s recent cuts in funding.
“I have diabetes, and I need medications that the UNRWA doesn’t cover anymore, and I can’t afford them,” he stated.
Issa Al Sayed, a representative of the Popular Committee of the camp, that aims at solving conflicts in the camp, and passing the problems of the camp’s residents to the Lebanese government, and International donors to the camp stated “after the 2007 war, drug use by youth increased because of the terrible situation they are living in which led to desperation.”
The Committee emphasized that Palestinian refugees within the camp are still working hard to get an education and most of the youth are university degree holders, yet the vast majority remains unemployed causing severe depression amongst the younger generation.
The Azahir organization decided to take matters into its own hands.
A group of young volunteers came together to help change the mindset of the children in the camp.
As Nadeen Ahmad Ali, a volunteer and Philosophy student at the Lebanese University stated, “the kids come here frustrated. Most of their parents are angry at them and are always getting their frustration out on them. Therefore, the kids tend to be aggressive with one another.”
The center gives them the chance to relax, and be children.
There they read stories, play football along with educational games that emphasize the importance of positivity, teamwork, looking on the bright side no matter how hopeless their situation might seem.
UNRWA, along with other donors launched a project to rebuild the camp after its destruction in 2007.
The reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared Camp is the largest project that UNRWA has ever implemented in any of its five fields of operation. The project involves the reconstruction of residential units for 4,867 families and 1,105 shops.
New, brightly painted houses were seen across the camp, and construction seemed to still be on the go.
The delegation ended their day with a visit to the European Union’s ambassador to Lebanon, Christina Lassen, at Riad El Solh Square in Beirut.
Leila Allen, France 24 reporter in the Middle East expressed her outrage over the general conditions of the refuges, including a prevalent lack of medical care. Allen added that it's " ridiculous for a group of people to remain regarded as refugees for 70 years."
Pietro Stefanini, one of the organizers from the Palestinian Return Centre, said that the "Palestinians are suffering daily as a result of the occupation of their homeland."
The group expressed the concerns of the refugees and explained the ominous situation that the Palestinians are living in, especially that the reconstruction is taking too long.
Lassen stated that the EU is under pressure after the Trump administration cut funds to the UNRWA, and that “the EU is trying to cover the funds to avoid shortage as much as possible,” she assured.
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