UNRWA Demolition Plan Leaves al-Bared Refugees Stranded

A Million Stories about the Zionist Rape of This World – in pictures

UNRWA’s decision to demolish the buildings failed to consider its displaced residents, leaving them to their own devices to find a suitable alternative. (Photo: al-Akhbar)

By: Robert Abdallah | Al Akhbar | Monday, October 17, 2011

Displacement following the destruction of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp four years ago forced many families to live in deplorable barracks until their homes were rebuilt. UNRWA recently decided to demolish the structures, but without providing the displaced families an alternative.

Nahr al-Bared — Emad Odeh, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in northern Lebanon, often spends his time in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp’s health clinic, greeting visitors with enthusiasm and engaging them in conversation and discussion. But last Tuesday, when we approached Odeh for comment following UNRWA’s decision to demolish the metal barracks near the camp, he opted for diplomacy. Instead, he deferred to al-Bared’s Popular Committee, the Barracks Committee, and residents, as he did not want the Palestinian factions to be blamed for politicizing the issue.

The barracks on the outskirts of al-Bared served as temporary housing for 90 families displaced during the 2007 conflict between Palestinian factions and the Lebanese military. UNRWA’s decision to demolish the buildings failed to consider its displaced residents, leaving them to their own devices to find a suitable alternative.

Ziad Shteiwi, a member of the Barracks Committee, discussed UNRWA’s decision to destroy the barracks. Shteiwi brought up two key issues: first, that all camp residents were not included in the decision-making process, and, second, that the decision should have offered a compromise with the camp’s residents.

Shteiwi described the journey of the 90 families that resided in Beddawi camp’s UNRWA schools following the destruction of al-Bared. They faced great hardship and suffering, yet they started a grassroots movement to rebuild their al-Bared camp. The residents, committees, and Palestinian factions had all pressed for the barracks demolition, but not on the basis that the people living in the barracks be evicted and provided no alternative housing.

Conditions in the barracks are intolerable, and perhaps UNRWA demolished them because of mounting demands to improve the situation for al-Bared residents. But demolishing the barracks is sensible only if the refugees could afford to rent homes nearby. According to Shteiwi, UNRWA compensated the residents with US$150 a family, which isn’t enough “to rent a garage in [nearby] Tripoli.” Demolishing the barracks under the present situation is tantamount to leaving their residents homeless once again.

Shteiwi insisted that we see the barracks first-hand so that we could accurately portray its conditions. The path leading to the premises is unpaved, like many of the camp’s narrow, winding roads. We entered through a dark tunnel that divides the ‘barracks,’ which are closer to prison cells than residential dwellings.

Entering the barracks is easier than leaving. Women and children stumble over each other to greet any outsider that sets foot inside, and teenage boys race to be the first to complain of the conditions. The tunnel that the children are forced to use as a playground is infested with rats, particularly since the drainage system has deteriorated and rancid water covers the ground. Once, a young child picked up some rat feces and swallowed it while his mother wasn’t looking. He had to be immediately rushed to a nearby hospital.

One resident, Najia Abdo, says she must wrap her arms and legs in a woolen blanket, even though her room is blazing hot, otherwise the cockroaches would bite her at night. She pulls two boxes from under the wooden table and brings out some wrinkled clothes that became a cockroach nest. Later, more women enter the tin house and head for the area called the kitchen. One of them opens a bread bag, only to find that bugs have infested it.

Abu Nimr Ahmad Abdo, a member of the Popular Committee, does not consider the barracks to be the only problem in the camp. He says “we’re constantly having to face a choice between bad and worse.” He described the decision to demolish the barracks as “twisting the truth,” because “UNRWA issued the decision in response to our request, but didn’t talk to anyone about the alternatives. Meanwhile, they’re only offering US$150 per family to pay for alternative housing, citing a lack of funding.”

Expressing disbelief, Abdo added, “I don’t buy it, because the average yearly rent of the international employees, of which there are about 100, is upwards of US$15,000 per person, and that’s not including the vast sums of money wasted on celebrations and official visits. The most recent example was an event honoring the arrival of 28 UNRWA ambassadors and representatives, along with the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs, Wael Abou Faour, for the inauguration of three schools. They paved a 500m road in the course of two days, without the slightest regard for technical standards. Meanwhile, 1,000 students travel by foot an average distance of 700m on a dirt road. Not to mention that the road to the clinic — despite its importance — has not been paved because it crosses an oil pipeline.” Abdo wonders, “Isn’t it more important to secure the movement of students and patients and keep them out of the mud, even if it’s on a temporary road?”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Source and more at the website of Al-Akhbar

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