“People with nothing are helping people with nothing”

Wavel camp is located in the Beqaa Valley, near Baalbek. Originally a French army barracks, the camp hosts more than 8,000 refugees. (Arjan El Fassed)


TYRE — As the war in Lebanon continues, Palestine refugees are also feeling the burn of the attacks in this ancient city and district declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. The camps are struggling with diminishing supplies of food, water and medicine. “We have been waiting for months now for a shipment of medicine and critical supplies, but with the onset of war, I doubt it will ever arrive now,” said Mohammed Farmawi, an official with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Since the onset of war, refugee camps in the South and in Beirut have taken in thousands of displaced Lebanese families from the South. The “old refugees” are sharing their rooms, schools, mosques, and supplies with the “new refugees.”

“People with nothing are helping people with nothing,” Farmawi said, “that is the irony of this war.”

In the Al-Bas camp in Tyre, about 500 families have arrived as “guests” to the camp that already hosts over 5,000 refugees. “We were already sharing half a potato amongst ourselves, and then when the new refugees came in, we had to cut it again, and now we barely have any potatoes left,” said Farmawi.

The looming humanitarian crisis [redundant: looming implies large-scale] is worrying officials at the camps as the influx of displaced Lebanese continues. There are shortages of everything—mattresses, water and medical supplies.

But the main concerns are the delayed shipment of medicine, Farmawi said, and that the Palestinians will be put “aside” when they are already seen by many to hold a “secondary position” in Lebanese society.

Mohammed Atiyeh, a Palestinian official who is overseeing the move of the displaced into the camp said there was no “hesitation” to help the displaced.

“Lebanon took us in when we were turned into refugees, and now it is our turn to take in the Lebanese for the same tragic reason,” said Atiyeh.

The Palestine refugee camps in the South are being sporadically bombed by warplanes, especially along the parameters of the Palestinian camps in Tyre . The road into Bas has been destroyed and is marked with a crater measuring 25 meters wide and 15 meters in depth. But Mr Atiyeh said nothing [none] of this is new. “We are now one nation, united in our pain and plight “, he said.

“Every time we hear a bomb and our walls shake, we just shake our heads and get back to our routine.” Palestinians interviewed in the camps showed no fear, as they claim they are “used” to living under difficult conditions. “I just want this war to be over soon, before all of us starve to death,” said Hala Ahamd, a refugee living in Bas with her four children and husband. “War is bad on everyone, and prices skyrocket. Poor people like us have it even more difficult,” said Ahmad.

Rym Ghazal, a reporter from the Beirut newspaper The Daily Star wrote this special report for UNRWA from Tyre in southern Lebanon.

UNRWA’s Maria Gonzales-Ubeda continues:

With no end in sight of the hostilities in Lebanon, the humanitarian situation is alarming. An estimated 800,000 people have fled their homes especially in the south of the country, escaping the constant shelling and the air strikes. Most have left their belongings behind. Some carry only basic items with them, but many didn’t even have time to do this. In a few days their lives have been destroyed by a conflict in which they have no part. But those who flee might consider themselves somewhat lucky; they are not among the more than 600 Lebanese, mostly civilians, who have been killed during this crisis.

Day by day, casualties rise, infrastructure re-built after the 1980s is destroyed, and countless more people flee.

Since July 22 thousands of Palestine refugees have fled the Wavell, Rashidieh and El Buss UNRWA camps in southern Lebanon because they no longer feel safe there. Palestine refugees are fleeing side by side with the Lebanese. The last days have been especially difficult in Tyre where the displaced had arrived before deciding to continue north in fear of more attacks.

UNRWA has extended humanitarian aid to Lebanese who have flocked to take refuge in UNRWA camps in southern Lebanon. Currently the two UNRWA camps around Saida, Mieh Mieh and Ein el-Hilweh, are hosting the largest number of those who have fled during this conflict: 2,434 displaced persons. The three camps around Tyre hold 762 persons who have fled the current war. Beirut’s Sabra camp is hosting 227 new persons and the camps in the North (the Tripoli area) have received 70 persons. In Saida, Tyre, Beirut and North Lebanon UNRWA teams are caring for displaced persons who have taken refuge in UNRWA schools.

UNRWA provides the people who arrive in its camps with mattresses, pillows, sheets, towels, kitchen kits, detergents and basic toilet items. The camps can provide water as long as fuel is available. When this runs out the Agency will bring in tankers with water. Displaced families receive food rations consisting of sugar, rice, lentils, broad beans, white beans, milk and cooking oil.

UNRWA is sending medical teams to the areas in and around the camps where people have fled. The short supply of medicine is of critical concern to the Agency.

Power is one of the most acute problems. Most of Lebanon’s power plants have been destroyed. Thus, people are dependent on generators that consume large amounts of diesel and petrol and fuel supplies in the south of Lebanon are rapidly diminishing.

UNRWA is also delivering relief north of the capital Beirut. In the past days several convoys have been sent to the area around Tripoli where displaced persons from the south have arrived.

While focused on the plight of Palestine refugees within its mandate, UNRWA has extended its support to those who need help within the wider Lebanese population. In light of this and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Lebanon and South Lebanon in particular, UNRWA is required to seek additional funding from donors. UNRWA is appealing for $7.2 million in emergency humanitarian interventions in Lebanon and Syria as part of the Lebanon Flash Appeal issued in cooperation with other UN agencies and humanitarian organizations.

UNRWA’s appeal takes into account the resources needed to protect staff and secure installations. UNRWA has already begun to procure food packages and household items for tens of thousands of displaced persons across Lebanon, and is preparing to distribute emergency food rations. Further interventions are planned to address immediate health needs by providing emergency healthcare kits and funds to cover hospitalization costs. UNRWA’s activities will also address the urgent task of repairing disrupted water supplies. Emphasizing the need for a quick response from the international community, UNRWA Commissioner-General AbuZayd said: “I urge donors to respond generously to this appeal and to do so with the urgency demanded by the situation in Lebanon”

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