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From displacement to homelessness

Palestinian refugees displaced by a battle in their camp in northern Lebanon are still waiting, two years on, for the rebuilding of their "temporary" home.

About 14,000 Palestinian refugees have moved back. Some live in their old homes, but most reside in temporary shelters built by UNRWA. Many of the shelters lack hot water, and there’s no air-conditioning in what are basically modified cargo containers with bathrooms and simple kitchens.

“I have eight children and three rooms,” says Kafaya Ziad Othman, whose leathery skin makes her look older than her 31 years. “We are stacked on top of each other.”

Schools here are temporary, and are constructed out of corrugated metal, like the housing units. They are neat and clean, but overcrowded. At the Mt. Tabour School, 450 students attend in two shifts — one begins in the 7 a.m. until noon, then the second session lasts from noon until 5 p.m. The principal, Hatem Assad, says when the generator doesn’t work, which is the last two weeks, the classrooms become ovens in the midday sun. But he says his biggest concern is lack of reconstruction in the camp; it’s making him, and other residents, nervous.

“People say there will be no reconstruction,” Assad says. “They think that because the reconstruction hasn’t begun yet. Two years and no reconstruction. These people are living in hard conditions.”

For the last two years, Assad has lived with his family in another Palestinian camp a few miles away. His home in Nahr al-Bared wasn’t destroyed in the fighting, but he can’t go back to it because the Lebanese Army is still removing rubble and unexploded shells left over from the fighting.

Hardships here are numerous. Assad says the Lebanese Army’s cordon around the camp is too tight. He says he wants security, but that waiting in line for thirty minutes at a Lebanese Army checkpoint, where soldiers sometimes “humiliate” him and other Palestinians as they enter what was once their home, is too much.

“People feel victimized to some extent and neglected as well,” says Charlie Higgins, the UNRWA project director for Nahr al-Bared reconstruction. “People would like to be under a freer security arrangement so they can reintegrate with surrounding areas, which they had before, economically and socially. And I think real recovery is dependent on that.”