SIDON, Lebanon: Palestinian Syrian refugees in Lebanon should receive the same financial assistance given to Syrians fleeing the violence, a senior U.N. official said Thursday.
“We made a request during the donors’ conference in Kuwait that funds for the refugees include Palestinians,” U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said. “Fortunately the participants’ response was positive,” he added during a visit to Sidon’s Ain al-Hilweh, where the number of Palestinian families fleeing Syria has swelled.
Some $1.5 billion was pledged Wednesday by a number of countries and international organizations at the conference, where Plumbly said talks also covered, “the needs of Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria.”
Local officials in Sidon said that the number of Palestinian families in the city is 2,770. Many refugees in Ain al-Hilweh were already suffering from funding restraints prior to the unrest in Syria, and Palestinian factions in the camp said this month that the situation in the camp is on the brink of a major humanitarian disaster.
Plumbly, who met with leaders of different Palestinian groups in the camp, said that he has seen the difficult conditions in which refugees in Ain al-Hilweh live. “There is clearly an urgent need for more assistance,” he said.
“The plight of refugees is truly distressing ... UNRWA has been helping within the available resources,” Plumbly added.
In addition to 53,000 registered Palestinian refugees that live in the camp in south Lebanon, approximately 4,000 refugees from Syria are now residing in Ain al-Hilweh, according to Plumbly’s media office.
The U.N. official praised Lebanon’s openness in welcoming the displaced Syrians and Palestinians fleeing the violence. “We would like to thank the Lebanese government for opening its borders to welcome the Syrian refugees ... Lebanon has done a lot compared to other countries,” Plumbly said.
In a speech at the donors’ conference in Kuwait earlier this week, President Michel Sleiman pledged to keep Lebanon’s border open to refugees.
“Lebanon has sought in recent months to provide assistance to the Syrian refugees despite its limited capabilities. However, the country needs help in hosting the refugees,” Sleiman said.
Accompanied by UNRWA Director Ann Dismor, Plumbly toured the camp and met with a number of Palestinian families living there.
Fatah Secretary Fathi Abu al-Ardat welcomed Plumbly to Ain al-Hilweh, emphasizing the Fatah Movement’s stance toward the unrest in Syria.
“We reiterate that our policy as Palestinians in this country [Lebanon] and Syria is neutral and that is why we have asked to keep the Palestinian camps away from any violence and bickering between rival parties,” Abu al-Ardat said.
Abu al-Ardat also called on the U.N. to provide the Palestinians with the funds that they were granted at the conference in Kuwait.
“The funds that were agreed upon at the Kuwait donor’s conference should be quickly provided to Palestinians fleeing Syria in a transparent manner,” the Fatah official said. Abu al-Ardat added that the humanitarian assistance should be given to the camp in coordination with UNRWA.
“We hope Mr. Plumbly saw how many 20-member families are living in one or two rooms in the camp,” Abu al-Ardat said.
Islamic Jihad Movement leader Sheikh Jamal Khattab said that Plumbly’s presence in Ain al-Hilweh is evidence that the camp enjoys safety and security, despite minor incidents that took place earlier this month.
“The presence of the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon in Ain al-Hilweh proves that the camp is stable, despite the incidents that took place this month ... These incidents are minor compared with problems that exist outside the camp,” Khattab said.
Other Palestinian officials who took part in welcoming Plumbly at the camp informed him of the poor condition of many of the buildings there.
Plumbly said he was encouraged by the efforts of local officials to maintain law and order in the camp and create a sense of unity.