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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Refugee Camps in Lebanon Tell a Sad Story

In the last leg of their six-week trip into the field, CEO Abed Ayoub and an Islamic Relief USA team went to Lebanon last week after wrapping up portions of their trip in Jordan, Mali, and Ghana. In addition to meeting with government officials, the team had been visiting schools and Islamic Relief programs in the countries.

Before leaving Jordan, the team visited a camp filled with refugees with Palestinian backgrounds. The camp had been established in 1967 and populated with Palestinian refugees who had fled their homes in 1948, went to Gaza, and then fled again to Jordan in 1967, settling in tents in the Jarash area before the camp was established. None of the refugees ever registered with the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA).

According to Yousef Abdallah, Islamic Relief USA’s Northeast Regional Manager, who traveled with the team, only 8 out of 20,000 refugees have a Jordanian social security number and residency rights.

The only medical clinic at this camp of 20,000 refugees sees about 450 cases a day, and the poverty level is quite high, Abdallah reported. At one pre-K school, 90 students are divided into two rooms, and no more children can join due to limited space. Walking through the streets, the team witnessed above-ground sanitation canals and houses with asbestos. Ayoub pledged to help the camp with medicine and medical help.

Also while in Jordan, Ayoub signed a Memorum of Understanding (MOU) with the Jordanian Alliance Against Hunger and signed a grant agreement with the UN World Food Program for a school feeding program. A draft MOU was also sent to the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization for review and approval. Once that is signed by both parties, IR USA plans to ship medicine to Jordan to be disseminated by the JHCO and the Islamic Relief Jordan office.

After arriving in the country, the IR USA team went with a UNRWA team to northern Lebanon to visit the camps of Albadawi and Nahr al-Bared, near the city of Tripoli. At the Albadawi camp, the team visited an UNRWA school and was briefed on the situation inside the camp. An Islamic Relief representative, Nabil Namani from the IR Lebanon office, said they were planning drill a well for the school.

As the team toured the camp, they witnessed poor living conditions, an unorganized expansion, and exposed electrical wiring, according to Abdallah. Some of the homes they visited were for families who had fled the fighting in Nahr al-Bared.

"It's extremely poor [living conditions]," Abdallah said. "You can see the frustrations in their eyes. They left their homes in Nahr al-Bared in their night gowns, barefooted, without being able to take any of their belongings with them. They have no jobs, and Allah knows what's awaiting them.”

From the Albadawi camp the IR USA team went to the Nahr al-Bared camp after going through numerous checkpoints. Once inside, they saw that a camp that used to house 17,000 refugees was in rubble and ruins. The whole camp was destroyed, Abdallah said. UNRWA is planning to rebuild the camp, but is unsure if they will be able to finish due to a lack of funding.

"No matter how much we are trying to help, there is always more need,” Ayoub said. "All the things I've seen on this trip, as hard as it’s been to see, has only strengthened the resolve of Islamic Relief USA to work harder and do more inshallah."

--Reporting by Yousef Abdallah
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