Bourj al Barajneh Palestinian Camp

Bourj al Barajneh

BEIRUT: Flooded narrow streets and untied electric cords swinging down the broken windows of ramblingly built up shanties are first to be seen at Bourj al Barajneh Palestinian Camp of south Beirut.

No later than ten minutes, the residents began to complain initially about the weak infrastructure that had caused the death of several kids playing around and being caught up by the untied but active electric cables.

Walls are largely covered by the posters of Yasser Arafat and Palestinian prisoners, martyrs attached next to the freedom slogans. Hosting a large population of Shia Muslims, the camp also has Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s pictures hanged next to the young fighters with their guns in hand.

Turkey receives a very positive and sympathetic approach by the Palestinians of Bourj al Barajneh camp, however, an official from Al Fatah, who wished not be named because of security reasons, believes that “the support of Turkey [for Palestinians] is a temporary enthusiasm and will decrease if the current AKP government lose power.”

According to the latest United Nation Reliefs and Works Agency (UNWRA) statistics, there are almost 422,000 registered refugees currently residing in Lebanon.

Spider net looking cables

The influx of refugees and the establishment of the Palestinian camps date back to 1948 Arab-Israeli War, during which the Palestinians left Galilee seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Bourj al Barajneh is one of the twelve official Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon with a rough population of 20,000 residents sharing an area of 1 km2.

“I’ve seen 70 students in one of the schools in Norway studying in an area of 3 km2 while we here are trying to squeeze in 1 km2,” said an official from the Palestinian Embassy in Beirut, who wished to remain anonymous for official reasons.

Not being legally allowed to work in Lebanon with no citizenship, most of the Palestinians at the camps are dependent on the remittances of their relatives living abroad. The main hosting countries of Palestinian refugees are largely Scandinavian countries.

The rest of the income is being circulated among the residents by the stores owned and ran by them.

Apart from the construction, one of the main infrastructure problems of the camp is the lack of access to drinking water, where almost 80% of the water is salted.

Little hope is given for the Palestinian kids at the camps since they hardly get able to find a legal job in Lebanon which also reduces the importance of having a proper education for most of the Palestinian youth. The drop-out students then, become the target of fundamentalist group recruiters operating in the camps.

Infrastructure is the main problem at the camp

“One of the most difficult tasks is to create something they would look for,” said Melek Nimer, Turkish origin Founder of Unite Lebanon Youth Project with the aim to help the disadvantaged kids in Lebanon while setting a comfort zone for their individual self expression.

Mrs Nimer does not only works with the disadvantaged kids, but also runs activities and projects at Bourj al Barajneh for a largely disregarded proportion of Palestinian elderly at her ageing centre based in the camp.

“Most of the residents have not even left the camp, till they joined the trips we organised for them,” she said.

There are currently five schools at the Bourj al Barajneh camp, but apart from the former education, the residents are encouraged to attend UNWRA’s vocational trainings that aim to develop their skills to be returned as a desired job for their future.

According to Zeinab Al Madhoun, UNWRA official working for the woman programmes centre, the participation of the residents to the activities is the key to socialise them while making themselves “feel useful.”

“The help and the support shall not only be financial but they also need to be active and participate in daily life so that they feel a part of the society,” Mrs Al Madhoun continued.

As for the young residents, there is one basic request. Mohammed Aboissa, in his early 20s, responded in a quick manner when asked about his priority needs:

“The only thing we want is a job! We are prevented from everything!”

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