Nahr el-Bared: Do Not Test Our Patience

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The camp, which used to be a commercial center between Tripoli and Akkar, never returned to normal. (Photo: Bilal Jawich)

By: Robert Abdallah

Published Sunday, July 21, 2013

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has decided to terminate its "emergency program" for the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in North Lebanon, even though thousands remain displaced. This threatens to throw families into the streets, depriving them of much needed health and food assistance.

Day by day, it seems that Palestinians displaced from Nahr al-Bared might return to Palestine before they are able to go back to their homes destroyed by the Lebanese army in 2007. While their original uprooting was the crime of the last century, the details of their second displacement from their refugee camp is more miserable and reprehensible.

On Thursday, July 18, every single resident of the camp was in the streets, but they were not taking part of the Ramadan revelling after a long day of fasting. "It is our destiny not to forget about sleeping in the streets and wandering out in the open," Ziad Shteiwi told Al-Akhbar.

Shteiwi was protesting against the UNRWA statement that informed camp residents of the imminent termination of its emergency program, which provides assistance to Nahr al-Bared residents awaiting its reconstruction.

This is what Anne Desmore, UNRWA office director in Lebanon, informed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s Marwan Abdel-Al, in charge of following up the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared, and other Palestinian leaders.

"Regrettably, it has been increasingly difficult to raise funds for the [camp’s] relief services and currently there are no new funds committed by donors. The current relief budget shortfall stands at approximately $8.2 million," UNRWA said in the July 17 statement.

The decision leaves 30 percent of the families without shelter. Only 20 percent of the flats in the reconstructed camp have been delivered to their owners. According to a report by Abdel-Al, there are 3,007 families receiving housing allowances.

Many families will end up without shelter at the beginning of September. They will lose the 100 percent health coverage and food assistance. Yet the conditions for the emergency program still remain and have even increased after the displacement of Palestinians from Syria.

The camp, which used to be a commercial center between Tripoli and Akkar, never returned to normal. There are no jobs or opportunities for livelihood. This means the protests will proceed indefinitely, according to Jamal Abu Ali, member of the camp's popular committee.

The $8 million deficit is a small figure compared to the budgets of international agencies and UNRWA, which was put in charge of managing the affairs of refugees following partition, does not have the right to claim it as an excuse, according to Imad Awde, PFLP head in the north.

Awde added that they also should not be playing on the tensions between refugees in Lebanon and those coming from Syria, by claiming that the continuation of the emergency program entails that it is expanded to include those displaced from Syria. Both are the responsibility of UNRWA and not the Palestinians who were victims of international decisions, he continued.

The so-called "harmonization" of UNRWA's services intersects with the increased activity of relief agencies related to displaced Syrian Palestinians. Rumors are spreading about the corruption, not least of which was the spoiled iftar food delivered to Syrian refugees in Akkar.

Awde mentioned that the popular committee and camp factions recently boycotted an iftar sponsored by a Qatari prince and covered by a special team from al-Jazeera, while Qatar "destroys Syria."

The camp is cautious about Qatari aid, which could be used to entice the Palestinians into the sectarian game and incitement. The popular committee boycotted the iftar, which included people from the camp and surrounding area. However, Awde concluded, the camp still insists on the strongest relations with its neighbors, but not under the Qatari banner.

All URWA offices were closed on Thursday, the services director's office, the social services office, the reconstruction office, the design department, and the main office (the compound). A threat had been shared on Facebook by some activists in the camp saying, "Do not trust our patience. If you return, we will return."

"We are ready. Are you ready UNRWA?" the message continued along with a picture of a pile of tires and a group of activists making the victory sign.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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