Lebanon News

Bekaa town opens its own refugee camp

People walk near newly erected tents for Syrian refugees in Al-Marj.

AL-MARJ, Lebanon: As the central government authorities debate how to deal with rising inflows of refugees from Syria, municipal authorities and relief agencies in the Bekaa continue to take action.

The town of Al-Marj, inaugurated a camp this week to receive refugees, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Relief Committee.

The camp covers an area of 6,000 square meters and contains 41 large tents and 22 bathroom facilities. The tents are large, each covering 16 square meters, and are also equipped with heating and an electricity supply.

According to the mayor of Al-Marj, Imad Shammouri, the move was simply the result of tragic scenes that had become commonplace.

“We began to see people sleeping in the open, and in front of mosques,” he told The Daily Star. “The objective of this camp is to secure a temporary shelter, not a permanent one.”

The municipality’s tasks cover supervising and managing the site, as well as distributing relief assistance to the refugees, after 10 families took up residence this week.

The Islamic Relief Committee is the body that provides all of the camp’s needs, from heating and food supplies to other items that are required. Camp residents declined to be interviewed, fearing retribution should they be forced to return to Syria.

The camp might only hold several hundred people in its present form, but since political considerations have halted any move by the central government to establish refugee camps, it is left to local government to deal with the crisis. The northern Bekaa town of Arsal opened its own refugee camp on municipal land earlier in the year.

The Bekaa office of Dar al-Fatwa, meanwhile, was busy this week distributing 4,800 heavy blankets to 1,200 families, under the supervision of Walid Jalal, from Saudi Arabia’s Popular Relief Office. Jalal urged all Gulf countries to pitch in and help with the relief efforts to deal with a “catastrophic” situation.

“Saudi Arabia isn’t the sun – it can’t cover everything. We need to see more cooperation in this regard,” Jalal commented.

Elsewhere, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been busy dealing with crowds of refugees who were complaining that registration procedures are moving too slowly.

The UNHCR lacks a fixed office in the Bekaa, as its employees move from place to place, designating times for appointments to register refugees.

As for Palestinians, those who have fled Syria for the Bekaa have flocked to the town of Taalbaya, where they have been less than pleased with the reception they’ve received.

They forwarded a memorandum to the director of the Taalbaya office, Ahmad Nour, asking for an emergency plan to be formulated.

Abdel-Rahman Awad, on behalf of a popular committee representing the Palestinians, said the memo resembled a number of earlier such pleas – the Palestinians are demanding that UNRWA funds designated for Palestinians in Syria be transferred to Lebanon to deal with refugee needs.

Accurate figures are often hard to come by, but some believe that in the last few days, the 400 or so Palestinian families who had earlier sought refuge in the Bekaa saw their numbers double due to the intense fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 21, 2012, on page 4.




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