BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tamman Salam Friday asked Arab states for nearly $300 million in additional funding to finish rebuilding the destroyed northern Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp and surrounding areas.
The premier hinted that if the work was not finished then there could be dangerous repercussions.“The Lebanese government looks to its sisterly Arab states to share the burden and cover a deficit of $280 million to help return the refugees to their residences in order to avoid security and social problems,” Salam said in a letter presented to representatives from several Arab countries.
“Leaving thousands of refugees homeless threatens civil peace and puts security and stability at risk inside the refugee camps at a time when circumstances are already pushing Lebanon into the eye of the storm,” Salam added in the document, which was presented to several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Qatar.
The camp was completely destroyed in the summer of 2007 during three months of fierce clashes between the Lebanese Army and militiamen from the now-disbanded fundamentalist group Fatah al-Islam. Some 30,000 Palestinians were displaced in the wake of the fighting, which left at least 400 dead. More than 150 of these were soldiers.
Despite domestic and international commitments to reconstructing the camp, according to Palestinian activist Edward Kattoura just 40 percent has been rebuilt so far. Former residents of the camp have often expressed their frustration with the slow rebuilding process.
“Of course they are upset,” Kattoura said. “It’s been seven years.”
By December last year, just under 6,000 Palestinians displaced in 2007 had returned to Nahr al-Bared, while more than 15,000 individuals remained in temporary shelters or in the nearby Beddawi camp, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The Lebanese government has stated that $345 million is required to completely rebuild the camp, with an additional $122 million needed for areas surrounding Nahr al-Bared that were also destroyed or damaged in the 2007 clashes.
Just $188 million has been raised to date, most of which was donated by the EU and the U.S. during a 2008 meeting in Vienna, Austria. At the time, Gulf states also pledged to meet half of the total bill, but it does not appear the money ever materialized aside from $35 million from Saudi Arabia.
The poor humanitarian and security situation has been compounded by the influx of more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria since the civil war there began in 2011, many of whom have sought refuge in and around Nahr al-Bared.
Security concerns are a significant factor in the Lebanese government’s renewed resolve to secure funding for the camp’s reconstruction.
Kattoura said that in light of the fighting in Arsal earlier this month between militants and the Lebanese security forces, the government is keen to “dismantle the risky points” throughout the country where terrorist networks may develop.
Hassan Mneimneh, president of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, confirmed that the government’s push for funds is an attempt to thwart a repeat of the emergence of terrorism in the Palestinian communities that gave rise to Fatah al-Islam in 2007.
“The general view now is to prevent the reasons behind terrorism through providing shelter” for the Palestinians displaced since 2007, Mneimneh told The Daily Star.
“We are building a model camp where no weapon will exist, except that of the Lebanese Army.”
At Friday’s meeting, however, Salam warned diplomats from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Algeria that reconstruction of the camp could grind to a halt by the end of 2015 if the rest of the budget was not secured. “They welcomed Prime Minister Salam’s demands,” Mneimneh added.
Kattoura, however, is doubtful that Arab leaders, already preoccupied with the crises in Iraq and Syria, will open their coffers. “To be honest, I am not expecting that money will start to come,” he said.
Still, Salam’s letter to the Arab states is a meaningful gesture, he said.
“The letter by itself gives us a positive indication from The Lebanese government that they are concerned about Palestinians,” he said.