NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon: Nearly seven years after their homes were destroyed, more than 100 families living near the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon have received new housing units, marking the first time a destroyed Palestinian refugee neighborhood in the country has ever been rebuilt.
Some residents, however, still long for the homes they lost.
“All the time I cried. For one-and-a-half years I cried,” said Rania, who fled her home “when the war began” in the summer of 2007, and is now among 111 Palestinian families in the area known as Muhajireen that will be rehoused.
Almost every generation in Muhajireen, which abuts the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, has known some kind of displacement. The initial refugees from Palestine fled to the area with their children in 1976 when the Tal al-Zaatar camp in Beirut was destroyed. Then in 2007, much of Nahr al-Bared and the surrounding area was flattened and pitted with mines during hostilities between the Lebanese Army and local hard-line Sunni group Fatah al-Islam. More than 35,000 people were displaced.
While grateful, Rania is not completely satisfied: “They said to me that they would rebuild it the same, but it’s not the same. It’s very small.”
Sources explained that the Lebanese government imposed strict conditions for the reconstruction of the neighborhood, which was financed by the European Union and the Norwegian government and implemented by the Norwegian Refugee Council. In part because of heightened security concerns, the government stipulated that once-narrow, rambling streets be rebuilt to accommodate vehicles. Lebanese authorities also insisted no building in the new complex exceed four stories.
This combination means many of the housing units are smaller than the pre-2007 dwellings.
For some, like elderly Hilweh, size is not a problem.
“It’s smaller, but I am satisfied,” she said.
While the units were designed according to the number of families in 2007, many of them have expanded.
“When we started the project in 2009 there were more than 500 family members to be housed in Muhajireen. At last count, more than a year ago, the number exceeded 600,” said Niamh Murnaghan, NRC’s director of operations in Lebanon.
Indeed, many young children and babies could be seen at the neighborhood’s ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday.
“Because of building conditions imposed by the government of Lebanon, the families have lost some space they had in 2007 but have gained the possibility of secure tenure in their homes in Muhajireen for the duration of their displacement in Lebanon,” Murnaghan said.
Because of the complex legal negotiations between Islamic endowment institution Awqaf, the Lebanese government, the Army and European backers, the reconstruction of Muhajireen took longer than anticipated.
“[Muhajireen] is the longest running project in the Norwegian Refugee Council’s 67-year history,” Murnaghan said.
Residents are expected to sign agreements and move into the new units in the coming weeks once legal agreements are finalized, a source at the event told The Daily Star.
The development, which cost some 4 million euros, includes a small playground and a community center, but the houses come empty.
“There’s no furniture, and we have no money to buy it,” said one woman.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Palestinian Ambassador Abbas Ibrahim announced the Palestinian Authority would bequeath $1,500 to each of the 111 families for furniture.
“From the ashes of war, destitution, despair and hopelessness ... people can look forward to dwellings and accommodation that are modern and ... fitting for family life,” rhapsodized Norwegian Ambassador Svein Aass.