RASHIDIEH/AIN Al-HILWEH, Lebanon: Some recently arrived Palestinian families who fled refugee camps in Syria hesitate to speak to journalists. Others are more outspoken, lamenting the fact that Palestinians spend their lives being displaced from one location to another.
One new resident of the Rashidieh Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon, Um Saleh Abdul-Fattah, is of the latter disposition.
“In 1948 we left Palestine and we were displaced to the Rashidieh refugee camp. Then we went to the town of Barja in Iqlim al-Kharroub, and then we ended up living in Syria where we had a dignified life, and today we’re again refugees in Rashidieh,” she explains.
Many cases are similar to that of Abdul-Fattah, who fled the Tadamon neighborhood near Damascus at the beginning of August. Hundreds of Palestinian families fled fighting in Syria and are now staying with relatives or friends in Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon, where overcrowding is rife and the physical infrastructure limited and often hazardous.
The first families fled Syria in mid-July and others have since continued to arrive.
The number of Palestinians crossing the border from Syria has doubled over the past few days in the midst of heavy fighting across the country’s cities and following last week’s attack on the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.
Most of the families are staying in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp on the outskirts of Sidon, and Rashidieh, which lies to the south of Tyre and is only 17 kilometers from the border with Israel.
Abdul-Fattah yearns for the life she and her children left behind in Tadamon.
“How nice life was there!” she exclaims. “There’s a big difference between there and here: Here is misery and unemployment. We are begging for our daily bread, we have problems coming and going from the camp, and my children have no work.”
Observing her new living conditions, the mother adds: “Look at the space we’re living in. It can barely accommodate two people. We even put our clothesline inside the house.”
Abdul-Fattah, who originally hails from Haifa, says that 60 Palestinian families have fled to Rashidieh. Some are staying with relatives and some have rented houses, she says.
Um Mohammad Khaled, a mother of two children, denies that she was actually living as a refugee in Syria: “In Syria we had a dignified life, unlike our relatives here ... There education, health care, housing and even employment were available.
“We came here a month ago, because we could no longer bear the shelling and killing. They ruined our lives. We were living in security and peace,” Khaled adds.
Another new arrival to Rashidieh, Omar, is just 3 years old. Since he left Syria, he has cried constantly, asking to see his father who stayed behind in the Deraa refugee camp.
Sahar, Omar’s mother, explains her decision to leave: “My mother-in-law was killed just near me when a bullet hit her head. Killing, blood, yelling and cries of help are all that surrounds you. That’s why I fled with my three kids.”
Meanwhile, Israa, Omar’s eldest sister, plays with her brother to distract him from his tears.
“We should go back and live there. Here everything is different. Here the only thing that’s better is there is no death,” she says.
Israa, who left school in Deraa before the end of the academic year, also says she is concerned about her father.
The mixed Syrian-Palestinian accents indicate that siblings Tala, Lara and Jawad Nour come from the Husayniya neighborhood in the Sit Zainab district of Damascus.
Their elder brother apologizes to reporters as he refuses to comment or allow photographers to take shots of his siblings or their home. However, the three kids speak for their family as they play with a football and a bicycle.
“Here the space is small [whereas in Syria] there’s a big space for us to play freely. Here we are afraid that we will smash window glass,” says Jawad.
But Tala intervenes, saying that despite the fact that the camp does not look like their home in Syria, people in Rashidieh are kind.
“I made friends in the neighborhood and they gave me toys they had,” she says.
Ali Murra, an official in a social association supervised by the Hamas movement, told The Daily Star that they are carrying out surveys to find the number of new refugees arriving daily in the camp.
He said they would provide the refugees with food parcels and domestic utensils in an urgent manner.
In Ain al-Hilweh, a number of newcomers complained about not being able to go outside the camp due to their not having residency permits.
However, Palestinian sources told The Daily Star that the general directorate of General Security has promised to issue special permits for these refugees that would allow them to wander outside the camp. The sources said these permits would expire once the holders return to Syria.
Fouad Othman, who is the social affairs representative for the Palestinian Popular Committee in Sidon’s refugee camps, said that more than 300 Palestinian families have arrived in Ain al-Hilweh and the nearby Miyeh Miyeh camp.
“The U.N. Relief and Works Agency should assume its responsibility and swiftly implement an emergency program because it is responsible for providing relief to Palestinians in Lebanon and in Syria,” Othman told The Daily Star. “There are some [newcomers] whose cases are really miserable and cannot wait.”
Othman, who also called on the Palestine Liberation Organization to implement an emergency program, said that many of the newcomers are currently staying in public spaces in the camps.
He also called on the Lebanese state to facilitate the movement of the fleeing Palestinians in and out of the camps and exempt them from the need for permits. “They cannot wait for permits to be issued,” he said.
Othman urged the state as well to ask international organizations to provide aid to the Palestinian refugees who fled to Lebanon.
While most of those who came from Yarmouk refused to talk about what happened there, a man in his sixties said shells fell on the camp, adding that the attack came without reason.
“Maybe it’s a message for us not to participate [in the uprising],” he speculated. “Blood has been accompanying us since 1948.
“Since then we have been attacked by friends and enemies.”