Refugee camps in Lebanon reach crisis point as more Syrians arrive

Publié: 11 septembre 2013 13:09 CET

The refugee camps in Lebanon for Palestinian refugees have seen a dramatic influx of Syrians in recent months, but their infrastructure is weak and they are now on the verge of collapse. 

The Palestine Red Crescent Society continues to provide the new refugees with health services, but the organization is in desperate need of funding to carry out its vital humanitarian work.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has an active emergency appeal to support the refugees in the countries neighbouring Syria and is seeking a total of 27.4 million Swiss francs to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq until the end of 2013.

The Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila is one such camp that requires urgent financial support and the situation is now critical. Shatila lies on the outskirts of Beirut and, according to Dr Adel al-Ahmad from the Palestine Red Crescent Society, the camp used to be home to approximately 10,000 Palestinian refugees. With the newcomers from Syria, the number of camp residents has swelled to an estimated 16,000. Other camps have witnessed a similar increase.

“In Shatila we have a health clinic and we also run a community-based health and first aid (CBHFA) programme and organize first-aid courses,” explains Dr Adel, the Palestine Red Crescent Society's CBHFA coordinator in Lebanon. “CBHFA is important, especially during a crisis, because people and communities have to depend on themselves,” he adds.

The biggest concern is everything

“There is no one single biggest concern: the biggest concern is everything — water, sanitation, health and shelter,” says Dr Adel. 

At the Palestine Red Crescent Society’s health clinic in Shatila, some 40 Syrian refugee women are gathered for a CBHFA session and are meeting Red Crescent social workers. Some of the women are Syrian, some Syrian Palestinians, but they all have same message: more help and support are badly needed.

“Our main concerns are for our children and their needs: nutrition, health, hygiene. Here they cannot go to school, and many are traumatized,” says one mother expressing the worry felt by many. 

The original Palestinian refugees inside the camps are also being affected because of the crisis in Syria. Palestinian men used to work for 20 dollars a day; now Syrians are paid only half of that. “So far, there have not been any serious tensions because of this though,” adds Dr Adel.

Camp conditions are critical

Shatila camp is a shadowy place, even in bright sunlight. Many of the meandering alleys are so narrow that the sun never reaches the ground and should two people meet, they have to pass each other sideways. The poor sewerage system makes the streets slippery and smelly, and above this labyrinth of alleys hangs a tangle of electrical cables, looping down in dangerous swathes.

Just a few blocks away lives Mr Abdulrahman with his family. They are from Homs in Syria. Four children and six adults share a two-room flat on the ground floor, partly below street level. The walls are damp and covered with mould; the only furniture is a pile of mattresses in the corner that are laid out on the floor at night.

“I am 70 years old and cannot work anymore. Only one of my sons has work, and one of my children is disabled, which is also adding to our problems,” he says, his eyes resting on his teenage son, who is lying on the floor. Despite the conditions here, something keeps Mr Abdulrahman optimistic: he clings to the hope that, one day, he will be able to return home.