By Tommaso Della Longa, IFRC
Palestinian camps in Lebanon are like cities within the city, with their own routines full of challenges and needs. For 70 years, more than 400,000 Palestinians have lived in Lebanon in 12 so-called camps; these days the camps are more like suburbs of cities such as Beirut.
However, since the beginning of the Syria crisis, camps have seen a large increase in residents and this puts pressure on resources. The Lebanese branch of the Palestine Red Crescent Society is a well-known organisation – a landmark – for Palestinians and now also for the refugees coming from Syria.
Through the organization’s five hospitals, community and health centres and branches, volunteers and staff are continuously supporting people, in a situation where needs are enormous.
In Beirut, the Lebanese capital, many Syrian refugees have decided to live in the Palestinian camps at Shatila, Mar Elias or Bourj el-Barajneh because of the cheaper rent. In these sites two families can live together in one room. Life, according to many, can be very difficult. “We don’t have running water in our room, we survive only with the assistance from Red Crescent, UN and the other NGOs,” one woman said. “We are literally dependent for food, clothes, blankets, everything. We are suffering a lot and we don’t see a future.”
During winter the Palestine Red Crescent Society is focusing on distribution of goods to improve heating and eating for thousands of families.
In Mar Elias, a queue of women in front the Red Crescent centre means that a distribution is taking place. The selected families will receive one blanket for each family member. And the situation is the same in other camps.
The Red Crescent staff and volunteers are well-known as they are running Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) programmes providing both health support and psychosocial services. “Here we feel safe, we receive support and we learn good healthy practices through the CBHFA programme,” a participant said. “I’m so happy that my children can come here to play but also to read and attend some classes, it’s fundamental for them.
In Shatila camp, the Red Crescent centre has provided medical and community services since 1978. In the last four years, the population has grown from 10,000 to 16,000, and the activities run by society are fundamental to the fragile community.
The Lebanon branch is also running five hospitals. The Haifa hospital, in Beirut’s Bourj el-Barajneh Palestinian Camp, opened in 1985 and has everything from surgery to paediatric, obstetric, gynecology and emergency room. However, the hospital cannot be extended to meet requirements as it is surrounded by the other buildings.
The hospital treats between 2000-3000 patients each month, an undertaking that shows the Principles of the Movement in action.