Jalil Refugee Camp: Hosting Syria’s Displaced for Iftar
By Rami Hamieh, Al-Akhbar
The residents of the refugee camp have learned to live with the congestion and difficult living conditions inside the camp – from the contamination of drinking water, the unemployment, to the coming winter and the burdens it brings with it.
They chose to forget all this. Hence, the camp’s popular committees, movements and political factions were mobilized to welcome the Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria.
More than 180 families arrived in the Jalil refugee camp in Baalbak, also known as Wavel, recently. They now share those same small rooms with their original inhabitants. They share everything, down to the bottles of drinking water and the iftar and suhur Ramadan meals. Sleeping is now a challenge, as people bend into impossible positions trying to utilize every available centimeter of space. Heads next to heels, or sleeping closely side by side are some of the options, while young men and boys have to be banished to the balcony to sleep there, “because the room cannot accommodate more than 35 people,” says Ghazi Hamdan.
Hamdan took in seven Palestinian families (35 people) in his shanty hut, where his family of four lives. He says, “These are beleaguered families that were forcibly displaced once again, and they must be welcomed.” But he also believes that their hosts are even more beleaguered, and that the situation in the camp therefore requires “more attention from UNRWA and international humanitarian organizations.” Nearby, Um Subhi took in three families. She said, “Whatever God has given us, we will share it with our brethren and our people.”
The obvious overcrowding in Jalil refugee camp, which is no bigger than 42 dunams [around 42,000 square meters] is not only due to the original 4,000 residents of the camp, or the refugees from Syria who number around 1,000 (200 families), but also the 3,000 expatriated residents of the camp who live in Europe and who come to visit their families every summer.
All this meant that a state of emergency had to be declared in Jalil, as Karem Taha, secretary of the popular committees of the Alliance of Palestinian Factions confirms. He said that a committee was created to conduct a census of the refugees, in addition to an emergency committee to contact international and charitable organizations to secure aid and distribute it to the families that were displaced. Taha does not deny that “a very small” number of displaced families had to rent rooms outside the camp, as the latter could no longer accommodate them.
But Taha also said that to this day, there is a “scandalous failure” from the “largely absent” UNRWA in terms of providing aid, and wondered about the “emergency plan” funds that UNRWA allocated as part of its annual economic plan. He asked: “Is there a bigger emergency that the situation we are facing today?”
Here, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was the “fastest” international organization to respond to the call for help in the camp, according to Taha, who mentioned that dozens of packs of foodstuffs and home cleaning and personal hygiene products were provided by the ICRC, as well as mattresses. Among the international groups that also provided aid to the Palestinian refugees coming from Syria were Humanitarian Relief, the Emirati Red Crescent, and the Islamic Resistance Support Organization.
In the meantime, one of the most serious problems that had to be addressed by the popular committees concerned the prosecution, fining and deportation of Palestinian Syrians who remain in Lebanon more than 15 days. Taha revealed that there has been correspondence and contact with the General Security (DGSG), after which a memo was issued allowing Palestinian Syrian refugees to remain in Lebanon without being prosecuted or deported, on account of the exceptional circumstances in Syria.
UNRWA and the Medical Mediator
Al-Akhbar has learned from sources familiar with the situation that Palestinian Syrians have had a meeting with the head of the UNRWA in the Bekaa region, Ahmad Mouh, and the UNRWA health monitor in the Bekaa, Ali Said, to discuss medical checkups and health care for Palestinian Syrian families. They agreed to give the refugees access to UNRWA clinics in the camp. In addition, it was agreed that each patient that needs hospitalization may be referred by UNRWA to the private hospitals with which the former has agreements.
But according to Karem Taha, the role of UNRWA is limited to “mediating” between patients and private hospitals, while treatment in UNRWA clinics is not covered by the organization’s budget and is instead borne by the Qatari Red Crescent.
Many of the displaced families are suffering grave humanitarian conditions, including refugees that require care, medicine and special medical equipment, and the popular committees are not able to provide these necessities. Here, Taha stressed that all efforts to contact international humanitarian groups and charities have achieved nothing, with the response often being that “we are UNRWA’s responsibility.”