Multiple Displacement: Baddawi between Nahr al-Bared and a Hard Place | Al Akhbar English


Today, Baddawi refugees have grown weary of their counterparts from al-Bared, as both populations must compete for the same scarce resources. (Photo: al-Akhbar)

By: Robert Abdallah

Published Friday, September 2, 2011

The destruction of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, the displacement of its population, the slow pace of its reconstruction, and the security and economic pressure placed upon its people has meant more misery for Palestinians in the nearby camp of Baddawi.

At the entrance to the Palestinian Baddawi refugee camp in northern Lebanon sits a rock, beside which there is an outstretched map of Palestine, with the words “165km away from Occupied Palestine” written across it. The refugees are occupied by the idea of one day returning to Palestine. But the mounting hardships of everyday life makes the dream of return look a lot more distant than what the sign suggests.

During Ramadan, residents of Baddawi are weary and tired, and the streets are empty past 11:30 pm. Coffee vendor Ibrahim al-Toufi believes this year’s Ramadan is different from years past, adding that “with or without Ramadan, business is not as it used to be.” There is a sub-text to his words: “not as it used to be” suggests “before the refugees from Nahr al-Bared camp settled here.”

The population of Baddawi has doubled since the influx of refugees from al-Bared, and everyone is competing to make a living that was, to begin with, difficult enough. In 2007, Baddawi residents received al-Bared refugees with open arms, attempting to ameliorate the tragedy of another displacement following their initial expulsion by Zionist forces from Palestine. al-Bared camp was destroyed during shelling by the Lebanese army in its stand-off with the militant group Fatah al-Islam. Today, Baddawi refugees have grown weary of their counterparts from al-Bared, as both populations must compete for the same scarce resources. Al-Toufi, who is a little better off than other camp residents, used to work as a cab driver until three years ago residents from al-Bared “robbed” him of his job, as he put it, because they all drove taxis.

The difficult circumstances in the camp have made some al-Bared residents look down on their own. Before the war, the dessert shop Hulwayat al-Qasim had customers waiting in long lines for sweets. The shop is now closed and its owner’s son hates the camp, as “it has turned into a dull place. Even the people there have changed. They’ve become stingy.” He quickly corrects himself, “I mean they are unable to pay.” He says unequivocally that he does not want to return to al-Bared. Despite the dole-drums, there are more people in Baddawi, while people from the surrounding areas no longer feel as comfortable shopping in al-Bared. As it is, al-Qasim adds, “we’re barely making a living.” Unlike al-Qasim, some well-off camp residents were able to relocate among Lebanese residents along the road to Baddawi mountain.
The population of Baddawi has doubled since the influx of refugees from al-Bared, and everyone is competing to make a living that was, to begin with, difficult enough. (Photo: al-Akhbar)

Inside the Baddawi camp, the main street swarms with people moving and milling around. The young men escape the camp’s narrow alleys whose entrances are barely visible. They hang out in groups smoking cigarettes, or worse, harassing passersby, which irritates the camp’s conservative residents. Muhammad (a pseudonym) stays awake watching Ramadan TV series with his five children. They watch in a room, which serves as a living room, bedroom, and dining room. Their ‘house’ does not have a balcony like most others on the alley. Muhammad prefers that his sons and daughters not venture out into the main street, in order to avoid unsavory characters and any gossip or headaches. He works in construction for an average of three days a week, or whatever is available. Muhammad needs a hearing aid, but assistance from the relief agency UNRWA has dwindled recently; and, according to Muhammad, the people of al-Bared are to blame for draining these resources. He chats in a hushed voice with his neighbor: he wants a USD 500 loan to open a small shop in the cellar to help support his family. His neighbor initially thinks that the amount refers to monthly installments, only to discover that it is the total amount. Loans, however, are conditional upon the ability of applicants to separate their store budget from family expenditures.

In a house next door, two girls live with their disabled mother. The oldest, Rabiha Muhammad Khodr, is the breadwinner. The family is dependent on charity and, in the spring, Khodr picks hibiscus from the mountain to sell on the sidewalks of Tripoli. Her glandular disorder has worsened and now affects her eyes. She also blames al-Bared refugees because she says all UNRWA and other assistance goes to al-Bared patients. Rabiha’s sister earns about the equivalent of USD 2 per day working from home, where she wraps chocolate for a factory. In this informal economy, wrapping a kilo of chocolate pieces is paid less than the equivalent of 20 cents(US) a day. There are four chocolate factories in the camp, which pay little for their female labor force: a day’s wage working from 8:00am through 3:00pm is around USD 5. If the women work overtime until 7:00pm, they earn USD 2 more. According to the women, most of the product from these factories is sold in well-known, high-end sweet shops.

Another alleyway in Baddawi camp leads to the neighborhood where refugees displaced from Tal al-Zaatar and Miyeh Miyeh camps live. The average width of these alleys is a meter and a half. But the alleys branch off into maze-like passages that are only half a meter wide.

Deteriorating conditions in the camps have left many residents bitter at the political groups active in them. One camp resident, who refused to identify himself, points out that the camp is swarming with popular committees and different organizations, factions, and charitable institutions, yet they can’t connect power cables or deliver medications to those in need. When prompted further, he changes the subject, asking not to talk politics. Ramadan TV series, he explains, are more entertaining and useful.

This article is translated from the Arabic Edition.


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