Lebanon: Can Nahr al-Bared’s Market Make a Comeback?

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A Palestinian woman hangs laundry at her home in front of destroyed buildings in the devastated Nahr al-Bared Reugee camp in north Lebanon, 07 January 2008. (AFP - Ramzi Haidar)

By: Zaid Shteiwi

Published Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Now that security passes to enter North Lebanon’s Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp have been revoked, local merchants report that their businesses are still on the edge of bankruptcy.

Nahr al-Bared – Before the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp was almost completely destroyed in 2007 following a months-long battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, it was a popular shopping destination for many in the North.

Here, you could find everything from pharmacies to gold shops to tile distributors. Lebanese farmers in the surrounding area benefited by selling their produce in the camp. Some estimate that thousands of dollars were spent daily at the local shops.

Today, the few camp merchants remaining have nothing but complaints about the state of their business, despite the fact that it has been months since the army lifted its security pass system for those who want to enter the camp.

“Nothing has changed,” complains Abed Sharif, who sells housewares, “because the camp remains surrounded by checkpoints. It is true that the security pass system has ended, but the Lebanese don’t come here anymore.”

“Those who used to shop here,” he continues, “have found alternatives outside the camp. Even some of the big Palestinian merchants have relocated elsewhere, and we used to benefit a lot from their customers.”

Bashar Nassar, a clothing shop owner, agrees with Sharif, saying that revoking the passes made little difference. “Quite frankly, if the situation remains this way, most of the stores will close – we can neither cover our rent nor pay off our debts to those who provide us with the merchandise.”

Next door to Nassar, Abu-Samir Badr sits in his lingerie store. Before the camp’s destruction, he owned the largest lingerie outlet in the camp.

“Our daily income was around $2,500 back then,” he explains, “and we employed between four and six women to help us out. Our business with Tripoli’s merchants would reach $20,000 a week. On the big holidays, we would would sell everything in the store.”

Close by, in Abu-Ahmad al-Abed Issa’s store, the situation is the same. When asked about shoppers from the surrounding area, he wonders, “Where are they? Is there anyone even coming into the camp these days? They can all be counted on one hand.”

As for compensation from the government, he says that the nearby Lebanese villages have received thousands of dollars, but the camp’s merchants have seen nothing yet.

Following the camp war, local merchants formed a committee to follow up on matters related to reconstruction and compensation. Ali Awad, who is an executive member, explains that the committee has sent appeals to the authorities asking for compensation, but to no avail.

He says that the committee worked with UNRWA to complete a survey of destroyed stores. “UNRWA paid small shop owners between $2,000 and $4,500, while the bigger merchants received amounts ranging between $5,000 and $9,500.”

Abu-Nimr, a camp Popular Committee official, says, “Ending the security passes did not produce the desired result due to the fact that the military checkpoints remained, leading many to believe that the camp is still a military zone.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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