SIDON, Lebanon: Salma, a Palestinian refugee displaced from Syria, happily moved her mattresses and piles of blankets from the tented settlement where she lived in the refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh to an apartment in a newly renovated building in the area.
Deputy U.N. Development Program country director Shombi Sharp inaugurated Friday the new building, where 25 Palestinian families displaced from Syria, who are currently set up in tents, will soon reside. The building is part of a residential complex in the camp, named Badr, after the local charity that is overseeing it.
Sharp toured the remaining tents in the camp and listened to the complaints of the refugees living there, in the presence of the head of the Badr organization Mounir al-Maqdah and several members of the Palestinian popular committees. He then inspected the renovated building.
“I had the chance today to look closely at the hard realities that the Palestinian families displaced from Syria are living in. The United Nations agencies, including the UNHCR, UNDP and U.N. Habitat, are doing their utmost to ease the hard situation that the refugees find themselves in Lebanon, after they were displaced for a second time from their homes,” Sharp said.
“With this initiative we are trying to provide them with better accommodation and we hope to follow up with other families who are in need of similar initiatives to improve their shelter situation and their livelihoods,” he added.
“We hope there will be understanding and harmony between the host communities to lessen disputes that could result,” he said. “We are doing our best to provide resources to assist the largest number of refugee families [in the camp.]”
“Today, several rooms have been renovated for the families, so they can live in a real home,” Diala Qoteish, a UNDP field coordinator for the program, told The Daily Star.
Qoteish said that 26 toilets, three kitchens and six washing rooms had been provided by Oxfam Novib and UNOCHA.
“This step is one of many in place to move refugees living in tents to more secure home arrangements, where they are better sheltered. Originally there were 80 families living in 64 tents and two months ago, with the start of winter, several were moved to rented homes. Today between 18 and 25 families were moved to renovated rooms in the Badr complex,” Rita Hamdan, head of the Popular Assistance Organization for Aid and Development, a new charity based in the camp.
Eighteen rooms have been renovated for about $200,000, she said. There are 30 rooms in the uppermost level of the complex that have yet to be renovated and about 23 rooms in the lower levels of the building. She added that the renovation process would move forward gradually, until all the families are moved from their tents to rooms.
“We are cooperating with the UNDP, U.N. Habitat, UNRWA and the Canadian government through CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency],” she said.
Maqdah said his charity had helped over 120 Palestinian families displaced from Syria since the start of the uprising. He added that Badr was coordinating with other organizations to guarantee medical services for these refugees at the Al-Aqsa Hospotal in Ain al-Hilweh. Recently, they opened a dispensary in the complex where the refugees reside.
“We are cooperating with UNRWA, UNDP, Fatah and Hamas and several other local and international organizations, that also help other charities in the camp,” he said, adding, however, that “all this is not enough to meet the needs.”
“The Lebanese government should set up an aid and support program for refugees, whether they are Syrian or Palestinian,” he said. U.N. agencies, especially UNRWA, should also bear these responsibilities toward refugees, he concluded.
Umm Mohammad is one refugee whose family moved to a room in the new complex. “Thank God we have been moved from the tents!” she said. “We have been rescued from the cold and the bitter winter, and also the scorching summer weather, and the rodents and scorpions that were coming inside our tents all the time.”