BEIRUT

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Palestinian envoy to Lebanon in Ramallah to discuss refugees

Protesters rally in front of UNRWA’s offices in Beddawi.

BEIRUT: Palestine’s ambassador to Lebanon headed for Ramallah Thursday with plans to speak with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about the influx of Palestinian refugees from Syria into Lebanon.

A media adviser for the Palestinian Embassy, Hasan Sheshneya, told The Daily Star Ambassador Ashraf Dabbour and a delegation of PLO officials traveled to Ramallah to attend a meeting of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, and would speak with Abbas on the sidelines about the refugees’ plight.

Abbas has reportedly ordered urgent aid to be allocated for the newly arrived refugees in Lebanon, despite the Palestinian Authority’s own difficult financial situation.

Traveling with Dabbour are Fathi Abu al-Ardat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon, and Amina Jibril, head of the Palestinian Women’s Organization.

With the Syrian crisis in its 21st month and more than 150,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, various United Nations bodies have taken on the task of registering and keeping track of the new arrivals. Palestinian refugees from Syria are expected to register with Lebanon’s UNRWA.

In some cases the PLO has been keeping its own records, noting by hand the names and locations of those who have flocked to the northern camps of Beddawi and Nahr al-Bared.

The figures serve as an important source of information, given that many Palestinians do not register with UNRWA, and suggest reports of Palestinians arriving en masse are exaggerated.

A PLO chart from Beddawi shows 473 families entering recently, presumably fleeing violence in Damascus’ Yarmouk camp.

With each family consisting of four to eight people, the total is likely between 2,000 and 3,000 people.

In Nahr al-Bared, the PLO has recorded 341 families entering of late.

Other sources recorded an additional 200 families recently entering the camps of Mieh Mieh and Ain al-Hilweh in south Lebanon, meaning that 2,600 Palestinian-Syrian families are now staying in Sidon and its outskirts.

Khaldoun Sharif, president of the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee, declined to comment on the Lebanese government’s decision not to keep its own statistics.

He said the Cabinet and UNRWA are in constant contact, working together to provide for the humanitarian needs of the refugees until they can return to Syria.

Many of the Palestinian refugees who fled Syria declined to speak to The Daily Star.

Nahr al-Bared resident Othman Badr explained this reluctance.

“First, Palestinians were ousted from their homeland to the camps, and then for the second time from the camps in Syria to relocate in Jordan, Lebanon or the relatively safer parts of Syria. Palestinians have been saddled with this despair and frustration for all these years, with no sign of hope. How can you ask them to talk about their new Nakba?”

Aid for the new refugees is being provided by a number of sources, although some refugees complain it is not enough.

Sheikh Jamal Khattab, who is overseeing aid from Ain al-Hilweh’s Islamic factions, said that “more people are displaced everyday by the escalating battles in Syria.

“We are trying to ease their hardship by distributing food, hygienic materials, blankets and mattresses.”

Khattab added that Islamic factions and other Sidon relief organizations are coordinating their efforts to remedy any possible gaps.

One member of Ain al-Hilweh’s Popular Committees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned of deteriorating living standards in the camp.

“The situation is getting worse due to the continuous flow of refugees who are not receiving any help from the international organizations,” he said, adding that there was mounting frustration at UNRWA in Ain al-Hilweh for what he called a “considerable failure in addressing the growing crisis.” He also expressed surprise over the “shortage of aid from Islamic and Arab countries.”

UNRWA distributed financial and food aid to 400 refugee families in Burj al-Shemali Thursday. The aid is worth LL60,000 per person, and comes with $25 worth of foodstuffs from local cooperatives.

UNRWA will dispense aid Friday in the Rashidieh and Bass camps, and will help refugees on the coast over the weekend.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 28, 2012, on page 4.

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