According to statistics for the month of May 2003, amongst the 329,498 refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, there are 2000 Palestinian refugee families, who had initially settled in camps and refugee centres following the 1948 Nakba (the Catastrophe) in Palestine, but who had then been forced out of that place of refuge.

The number of these internally displaced refugees is estimated at around 12,000, living in extreme deprivation in terms of social and economic conditions, as well as health, and education. They are to be found squatting in the cellars of abandoned or partially complete buildings, and underground car parks.

Reasons for Internal Migration This state of internal displacement of refugees started in the early seventies, a product of the Israeli attacks on the camps and Palestinian refugee centres. Attacks from the air, field artillery, attack boats, or seaborne landings by the Israeli Navy on the beaches of the refugee camps, resulted in many atrocities being committed - the killing and maiming of helpless refugees.

A case in point is Hassan Ajawi, a Palestinian refugee, who lost his youngest sister, and he himself had his left arm amputated as a result of an Israeli raid on Al-Rashidiyeh refugee camp in 1974. This forced internal migration then continued, this time because of the civil war in Lebanon.

The war broke out in 1975, and lasted for seventeen years. However, the most dangerous period in the migration of refugees from their places of refuge was in 1982, at the time of the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon. According to observers, 198,000 Palestinian refugees, of the total 239,000 registered with UNRWA in that year, were affected. This was followed by the war waged against the refugee camps in 1985, which went on until 1987.

This contributed to a steady stream of refugees moving between camps, and cities in an attempt to flee the raging battles, this in addition to the large number of refugees who fled abroad, and left Lebanon altogether. In a survey by the popular committee for Shateela refugee camp, it was found that there were around 500 families that had fled to the outskirts of Beirut.

Many had been concentrated in the area of Al-Sabeel, the Salwa Al-Hoot Building in Fekahani, and buildings belonging to the PLO in the area of Corniche Al-Mazra’a. As for the internal feuding, that occurred in the Palestinian camps, in the form of inter-factional, Palestinian-Palestinian fighting, this also had prominent effect in widening and encouraging further internal displacement and migration.

According to informed observers, all these factors have helped lead to around 7000 families moving out of their camps, and refugee population centres seeking safe haven. By far the majority migrated to European states like Germany, and the Scandinavian countries like; Sweden, and Denmark. The rest still remain scattered in the different parts of Lebanon.

The Refugees Migrating from Nabatieh Camp: Before it was obliterated, the number of Palestinian refugees forming the population of Nabatieh camp reached a peak of 5023, according to UNRWA. Following the continuous barrage using heavy and destructive weapons on the camp, and then the threat - leave or else – issued to the inhabitants by the Zionist enemy, the refugees fled and were dispersed to other camps like Burj-al-Shamali, Al-Awda centre near Ein-el-Helweh camp, Auozu refugee centre, Mieh-ou-Mieh, the area of Shuhaim in Al-Khuroob Province, the City of Sidon and Tel-el-Zaatar refugee camp before it too was destroyed.

The Refugees Migrating from Tel-el-Zaatar Camp This camp lies in the eastern part of Beirut, and up until 1976, housed 30,000 refugees comprising 17,000 Palestinians, and a mix of 13,000 Lebanese and Syrians. Tel-el-Zaatar camp is considered one of the largest refugee centres in the eastern part of Beirut, a predominantly Christian part of that city. In 1976, in what is now referred to as the “Massacre of Tel-el-Zaatar” - the refugees were systematically murdered, kidnapped and subjected to gruesome treatment. The inhabitants of this camp were forced to flee, abandoning their livelihoods and belongings in search of a safe refuge. The camp was then razed to the ground, and those few remaining refugees expelled. The tragedy of once more seeking refuge after expulsion was played out once more. The refugees fled the camp living out in the open, the ground their bed and the sky roof over their heads.

In time they were scattered across other refugee camps and the Lebanese territories; from Shateela to Ein-el-Helweh and Burj-el-Barajneh camps. According to UNRWA records for 1980, four thousand persons formed the number of Palestinian refugees expelled from Tel-el-Zaatar camp and living in the desolate Dammur area - an area whose inhabitants had themselves, previously, been forced to abandon it. However the refugees were forced to flee again because of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Some were to continue this nomadic existence of constant flight in the Beqa’a Region, others to Syria, another group to the areas of Roosha and Ras Beirut, where they were forced to take up residence in abandoned buildings, car parks and public spaces.

The Communities of Al-Maslakh, Al-Naba’a and Al-Qaranteena These closely assembled refugee centres lie in the Northeast, to one side of Beirut Port and next to Tel-el-Zaatar camp. As the civil war raging around them reached new levels of violence, the inhabitants fled these centres. Especially so, after witnessing the horrific scenes of young men crucified on the walls of the Sleep Comfort industrial complex, after being killed in front of their families, in the month of December 1976. Historians of the civil war relate these incidents.

Women, children and old people made their way to the cellars of Al-Ashrafiya neighbourhood, from which they were later transported to camps in Al-Ramla Al-Baydaa’ and Al-Awzaa’i. Observers reckon that the number of people forced from the refugee centres mentioned above was 780 families, i.e. 4500 refugees.

The War Ends The security situation in Lebanon stabilized after the Taif Agreement in 1989. A great number of; security, political, economic and social problems were resolved for the many Lebanese forced to migrate from their homes, as this phenomenon was not restricted to the Palestinian refugees. This change for the better affected a number of Lebanese families, who had also been forced either to migrate abroad or seek refuge away from the war zones. As a result, the inhabitants of Dammur area were repatriated, as were the inhabitants of other areas.

However the problem remained for those refugees whose camps had been completely destroyed. Moreover, they were now not allowed to return to them, even in their ruined state. After plans were made and implemented to reconstruct the country, however the problem of the Palestinian refugees remained unsolved, in spite of the efforts of the Lebanese state through the Department of Palestinian Refugee Affairs. In 1993, payment of between 2000USD to 3000USD was made to all those internally displaced persons, be they Palestinian refugees, or Lebanese citizens. While this payment was inadequate to meet the needs of the Lebanese individual, in any case he would be able to return to his home as part of the settlement.

The greater problem remained for the Palestinian families, who had nowhere to return to, following the destruction of homes, and the impossibility of return to Tel-el-Zaatar and Al-Nabatieh camps in particular. So some were forced to build on top of the houses of relatives in other camps, renting temporarily or to remain without home in their place. In February 1993, of those who stayed, some were forced to vacate their place of refuge, and had to live on the street for ten days, in full view of the national, regional and international media.

UNRWA in its capacity as the international agency specifically charged with the welfare of Palestinian refugees tried to play a role in resolving this problem, but found it difficult to broker agreement between the Lebanese state and the PLO. Where are the displaced refugees and how do they live? More than 25 years have passed, the Palestinian refugees are embittered, continuing to live, day after day, as they do in conditions nowhere near fit for humans:

1. Semi-non-existent infrastructure, in terms of water, electricity and sanitation services.

2. Lack of schools, nurseries, dispensaries or clinics.

3. Social problems due to high unemployment amongst youths.

4. Outbreaks of a number of infectious diseases, due to the crowded conditions and densely populated area.

Proposed Solutions After the passage of a quarter century on the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, their humanitarian situation is worsening. Aggravated so long as the refugees’ status is at odds with the laws and decisions put in place. These forbid the return of refugees to the destroyed camps, any expansion of the present camps, or the building of new ones.

Hence the refugees, living in conditions not remotely fit for humans, and indifferent toward these places where they had sought refuge, only demand and aspire to their problem being tackled at its very roots and that they return to their original homes in Palestine, in common with all Palestinian refugees abroad.

However, and until this hope is realized, they demand that the Lebanese state, UNRWA and the PLO grasp the nettle and solve their problems, and build dwellings for them that satisfy their basic needs.

Source: Ali Huwaidi: Beirut