- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2010

NAHR EL-BARED CAMP, Lebanon | The apartments are called “containers” or “barracks” and were built to be temporary housing for Palestinian refugees displaced by war more than three years ago. Some are made of concrete. Others are made of tin.

“We don’t see the sun here,” said Yazmine Khaleel, who has lived with her husband and four children in a one-room barrack since she fled the fighting. “They told me we would have nice temporary houses. It’s only a container.”

Ms. Khaleel is one of 30,000 former residents of the Nahr el-Bared camp who were displaced by battles between Fatah al-Islam militants and the Lebanese army in 2007. She relies on a small cash stipend and packages of food and medicine from the U.N. to survive, but said it’s not nearly enough to keep her children healthy in the musty barracks. According to the United Nations, even this aid could be stopped by the end of the month.

The U.N. says it has raised none of the $18.5 million needed to provide food, medicine and cash to displaced refugees from Nahr el-Bared in 2011. The reconstruction process also could grind to a halt because in the past three years, the agency has raised just 35 percent of the money needed to rebuild.

“We will not be able to know how many years we need to order to complete the project,” said Hoda Samra Souaiby, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which helps Palestinian refugees. “This is very much tied to the availability of funds.”

Few residents of the haphazard refugee camp have any hope of moving home someday, but many still hold on to keys to the houses their families fled in the wars of 1948 and 1967. (Heather Murdock/Special to The Washington Times)
Few residents of the haphazard refugee camp have any hope of moving ... more >

The agency is $208 million short of the funds needed to rebuild the camp, she said.

If the U.N. is unable to raise the money for emergency aid before the end of the month, 3,400 displaced families that receive $150 a month to help pay their rents will be cut off. “The whole relief operations will have to stop,” Mrs. Souaiby said.

In the barracks, residents say they were told the camp would be rebuilt by now. Most of the camp, however, remains in heaps of gray rubble, riddled with bullets from the 2007 battles that killed 400 people, including Lebanese soldiers, Islamic militants and civilians.

One section of the camp is expected to be ready to house some families early next year, but Ahmed Abueid, a house painter who lives in the barracks with his wife and seven sons, said he has little hope the project will ever be completed.

“We live here like prisoners,” Mr. Abueid said. “This life here is not good.”

Many of the apartments are cramped and leaky. Some are infested with mice and bugs. Mothers complain that their teenage daughters have to share rooms with their brothers, which is considered shameful in their society. There is never enough food or money to go around, they say, and work is scarce.

Palestinian construction workers employed by the companies that are rebuilding the camp say work on the project is frequently stopped when companies run out of money. When they do work, according to foreman Mahmoud Getawi, they are often paid late. When workers demand timely payments, he said, they usually are given the runaround.

“Everyone blames each other,” he said. “The contractors blame UNRWA, the UNRWA blames the [donor] countries. Everyone points the figure at the other one.”

Many of the refugees have no work. The U.N. estimates that 60 percent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are unemployed or underemployed. Even though several generations of Palestinians are living in Lebanon, they are considered foreigners. Palestinians are banned from working in many professions, including medicine, engineering and law. They cannot buy or inherit property.

In August, the Lebanese parliament enacted a law that allows Palestinians to get special permits to work outside the camps. Since then, no permits have been issued and the employment situation remains unchanged.

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