Daily Star staff
Monday, October 29, 2007
Lebanese and Palestinian students in public schools in North Lebanon held a demonstration at the Beddawi refugee camp on Sunday to demand the that United Nations refugee agency find classrooms for students whose schools in the camp where turned into temporary shelters for thousands of refugees from Nahr al-Bared when fighting erupted there between the Lebanese Army and Islamic militants in May. – The Daily Star
AUB students shocked by conditions at Nahr al-Bared
By Christian Porth
Special to The Daily Star
Monday, October 29, 2007
BEIRUT: A group of AUB students traveled north to the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli over the weekend with the intention of helping to clean up the homes of refugees returning in the wake of the May-September battle between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants.
What the students found inside the camp was enough to “make their heads spin,” said Tamara Qiblawi, a senior, who organized the trip in conjunction with Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), a non-governmental organization.
“It was totally devastated,” she told The Daily Star. “Nothing was unaffected.”
Bahaa al-Kayyali, who helped Qiblawi organize the trip, was similarly struck by the scenes of ruin.
“You can’t imagine what it looks like there,” he said. “We needed a lot of time to clean, even in the livable houses.”
Tarek Abdul Rahman, who was among the 11 volunteers on the trip, said, “The worst part was that the houses that weren’t hit were burned. By who, I don’t know. But it would be interesting to find out.”
In an open letter to Prime Minster Fouad Siniora, Qiblawi expressed both dismay and disgust with what she views as either the government’s complete ignorance of the facts on the ground or its complicity in them.
“When we were at the gates of the camp, we were told that cameras would not be allowed into the camp and we were searched scrupulously for them,” she wrote. “I did not understand why this was at first, but now I do, because now I am feeling disillusioned and angry and I know that had the rest of the world seen the images that my peers and I saw today, the rest of the world would feel disillusioned and angry, too.”
Aside from devastation and debris ledt over from 15 weeks of fighting, other problems face the returning Palestinian refugees. Rampant looting took place in their absence, and vitriolic graffiti covers the walls inside many homes.
In her letter to the prime minister, Qiblawi said that, “We found that the walls of the children’s rooms were covered with anti-Palestinian slurs and imprecations so vile that I cannot reproduce them on paper.”
Abdul Rahman, whose aunt lived in the camp, said she returned home to find “a lot of swearing graffiti against the Palestinians,” as well references to grudges based on events from “years ago.”
“She had also found her copy of the Koran on a table which someone had shot at close range right in the middle. It’s very sad,” he said.
“There was a lot of looting,” Qiblawi said. “We talked to people in and around the camp and everyone the consensus was that either the army or neighboring villagers or, potentially, both are to blame for this.”
When refugees were forced to flee because of fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam, many left with nothing “but the clothes on their backs,” said Qiblawi.
Nahr al-Bared was once known for being less impoverished than most other refugee camps in Lebanon, but now, said Khayyali, its have residents have been reduced to “truly nothing.”
At the close of her letter, Qiblawi implored Siniora to investigate alleged abuses at the camp and to provide better treatment for Palestinian refugees.
“This is not an attack on the government or on the army. To me, the war in Nahr al-Bared is a nebulous haze; its onset, its protracted ending and everything in between raises many questions in my head, and I will not broach the topic,” she wrote. “What I know is what I saw today, and it has disturbed me beyond belief. Therefore, I ask you, as a citizen petitioning a public servant, to look into the current treatment of refugees and end the oppression in Nahr al-Bared. I ask that you bring to us the democracy that you have promised.”