Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon

When they left their homes, villages, and land, no one certainly thought that it wasn’t a journey doomed to return. No one thought that was going to be an open-date journey and they will spend their lives as refugees. 

As for Lebanon, the country that still serves as a mailbox catching the sparks of conflicts in the surrounding region, governed since its establishment by the logic of the temporary that turns into permanent, and haunted by the sectarian conflicts that have become interweaving within its institutions, it remains under the tremor of dealing with the internal crises, and the external that turned into internal crises especially when it comes to dealing with the refugee crises, starting with the Palestinian refugees all the way to the displaced Syrians. A chain that tightens its collar on the state and the people on the one hand, and on the human refugee on the other hand.

Amid the various perspectives, facts confirm the presence of 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon today, and several small gatherings. Most of these camps were established under the supervision of the International Red Cross at the time of the first wave of displacement from Palestine in 1948.

Shatila Camp

Shatila camp was established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1949 and is in Beirut, east of the Sports City stadium. It was initially set to accommodate only hundreds of refugees who came from villages around the area of Amka, Majd al-Krum, and Yajur in northern Palestine, in 1948. 

Years of sanctuary and relief were few until the Sabra and Shatila massacre and the Israeli invasion, both happening in 1982. The tragedies culminated with the slaughter of between 762 and 3,500 civilians and the extensive destruction of infrastructure and shelters. After the Syrian war ensued in 2011, the camp’s population swelled up to almost 22,000 residents as of 2014. This is an alarming number seeing that the camp is extended by approximately one square kilometer, an exceptionally bustling camp. 

Burj Barajneh Camp

Established also in 1949 by the League of Red Cross Societies and located in the southern suburb of Beirut, Burj El Barajneh camp initially accommodated refugees from Galilee in northern Palestine. 

What was a camp originally made to host 3,500 refugees on a one-kilometer square area, quickly expanded in 1969 with the second wave of Palestinians seeking refuge and became home to 40,000 people. In 1969 without a doubt, urban design changed. Building work was haphazardly undertaken, with no opportunity to increase the foundations. Roads became extremely narrow, and infrastructure was compromised. Since then, the adversities for the Burj Barajneh camp only seem to magnify. From the destruction of several Palestine refugee camps during the Lebanese civil war to the Israeli invasion to the ongoing Syria crisis, all resulted in a wave of new refugees to Burj Barajneh leaving the camp more racked each time.

Dbayeh Camp

Tucked away in the northern Metn Hills, exactly 12 kilometers north of Beirut hides the Dbayeh Palestinian refugee camp. 

Established in 1952, the camp was originally formed on a plot of land just 61,450 square meters in size. Later in 1963, an additional 22,850 square meters were added after the UNRWA rented the extra piece of land from the monastery of Deir Mar Yussef that overlooks the camp.  

During the Lebanese civil war, the camp was raided by Christian militias but since then it didn’t witness any clashes. The camp is small and through the years it became part of the neighborhood where you can’t recognize it if it wasn’t for the blue and white UNRWA flag. 

Today, the camp is home to a population of about 2,000, a mix of Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrian refugees. 

Ein El Hilweh Camp

Situated just southeast of the city of Saida, Ein El Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp makes the largest and most crowded camp in Lebanon. Ein El Hilweh was established back in 1948. Geographically, the south of Lebanon borderlines the north of Palestine, consequently the fleeing families from there escaped and quickly settled in Saida. 

Over the years many Palestinian refugees displaced from other parts of Lebanon like Tripoli came to Ein El Hilweh during the Lebanese civil war and in the aftermath of the Nahr el-Bared clashes in 2007. 

It's worth mentioning that the ongoing Syria crisis has also led to an influx of Syrian refugees and Palestine refugees displaced from Syria, accumulating the number of the population inside the camp to more than 54,000 inhabitants.  

Mieh Mieh Camp

Mieh Mieh refugee camp takes its name after the village its located in. Hidden in the hills 4 kilometers east of the southern city of Sidon. Established in 1954, the camp gave asylum to refugees that came from the villages of Saffourieh, Tiereh, Haifa and Miron. The camp that extended across 54,000 square meters survived a series of major events. 

During the civil war, around 15% of the camp's shelters, as well as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school and distribution center were destroyed. Almost a decade later in 1982, came the Israeli invasion destroying many of the camp’s shelters and then nine years later in 1991 the camp endured another clash between Palestinian militant groups and the Lebanese army. 


The camp’s population is around five thousand refugees. 


The socio-economic situation of the refugees in Mieh Mieh is extremely difficult. Men find day to day work in construction sites and in orchards. Women work as cleaners and in embroidery workshops. 


Beddawi Camp

The Beddawi camp is in the north of Lebanon exactly 5 kilometers northeast of Tripoli city. Established in 1955 on 1 km squared, the camp is now considered to be in one of the poorest regions inside the poorest city of Lebanon very much Russian doll style.

As things tend to be with refugee camps in Lebanon, in a stretch of six decades, the camp swelled with large numbers of Palestine refugees displaced from camps such as Nabatieh and Tal el-Zaatar which were destroyed in 1974 and 1976 respectively during the Lebanese civil war, then some more from Nahr-el Bared after the 2007 clashes, and most recently as a result of the Syrian crisis further asphyxiating the already frail infrastructure of the camp. As of today, over 45,000 thousand refugees reside in the camp.


Nahr el-Bared Camp 

Nahr el-Bared which translates to the cold river, is a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, 16 km away from the city of Tripoli. The camp named after the river that runs south of the camp and was established in December 1949 by the League of Red Cross Societies in order to accommodate the Palestinian refugees suffering from the difficult winter conditions in the Beqaa Valley and the suburbs of Tripoli. The camp was established on the outskirts of any major Lebanese town or settlement, making it more isolated from the Lebanese community than other camps in Lebanon.  

The destruction borderline war that befell of Nahr el-Bared camp occurred between May and September 2007. As a result of clashes between militant group and the Lebanese Army. The camp was almost demolished. Roughly 6,000 Palestine refugee families (27,000 residents) and over 1,600 Lebanese residents living in the camp were forced to flee which led to their displacement in other refugee camps across the country.

Ever since the clashes were concluded, the Lebanese authorities have exercised a level of monitorship in Nahr el-Bared camp unlike any other refugee camp inflicting deeply the local economy. The reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared cost over US$ 329 million and led to the splitting of the camp into a new side and an old one. And to make matters worse,  the camp had to bare the additional burden of the arrival of refugees from Syria since 2011, with Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria.  



Wavel Camp

Wavel refugee camp was originally the site of French army barracks situated in the Beqaa Valley near Baalbek. In 1948 after the Nakba outbroke, it provided sanctuary to Palestinian refugees newly displaced from their homes. In 1952, UNRWA assumed responsibility for providing services in the camp. 

Perhaps the primary structure of the camp being an army barrack previously, was a blessing in disguise because Wavel camp suffered less structural damage than other camps during the years of civil conflict, but that’s how good it gets for the resident of the camp because living conditions are particularly severe. Many refugees still live in the original army barracks which entails the absence of daylight and no proper ventilation all year round and in the winter, conditions are detrimental as the Beqaa valley is a remote rural area with severe winter weather. Camp residents can only find seasonal work in agriculture and sometimes construction. 


The ongoing Syria crisis has also led to the additional presence of Syrian and Palestine refugees displaced from Syria in the camp further overwhelming the mediocre infrastructure. The number of refugee families residing in the Wavel camp is around 8000 families.  

Rashidieh Camp

Rashidieh refugee camp lies on the coast, five kilometers south of the city of Tyre. It was established in 1936 and originally made by the then ruling French government to accommodate Armenian refugees who fled after the massacre, which now constitutes “the old” part of the camp. Whereas “the new” part of the camp was built by UNRWA in 1963 to shelter Palestine refugees from Deir al-Qassi, Alma, and other villages in Palestine and those who were forced to evacuate from El Buss refugee camp and Baalbeck by the Lebanese government.  

Like many other refugee camps, Rashidieh camp was heavily affected during the Lebanese civil war, especially between 1982 and 1987. More than 600 shelters were destroyed, and more than 5,000 Palestine refugees were displaced.  

Employment opportunities are very limited. The residents depend on seasonal work in agriculture and construction. As of today, the total resident count is 31,478. 

Burj Shemali Camp 
Burj Shemali meaning “Northern Tower,” as an ode to the medieval tower-built centuries before, is a camp located three kilometers away from the city of Tyre in south Lebanon. It was established in 1948 to give shelter to those arriving from Hawla, Tiberias, Saffuri, and Lubieh villages.  

During the 15-year Lebanese civil war and specifically during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, large sections of the refugee camp were destroyed. Fast forward to today and Burj Shemali camp remains one of the most impoverished camps with most houses made up of zinc roofs.  
The situation of the camp and its people is quickly decaying. 

Residents in the camp live well under the poverty line and suffer from thalassemia and sickle cell disease (a genetic disorder) due to consanguine marriage. They rely on seasonal work in agriculture. They are well above 20,000.  

Mar Elias Camp
Mar Elias camp is the second smallest camp in Lebanon, and it is located to the south-west of Beirut city between Watta Mousaytbeh and UNESCO palace, situated on a small piece of land of 200 square meters. The camp was founded in 1952 to accommodate Palestine refugees from Galilee. 

It was originally populated by 1500 Palestinian refugees who fled Palestine in 1948. During the Lebanese civil war, many families left the camp and were replaced by families who came from Tal El Zaatar camp and other areas in East Beirut.  

Mar Elias camp needs comprehensive rehabilitation. Residents work all kinds of jobs ranging from car mechanics to cleaning staff. Those luckier among them used to have their own shop for groceries and could scrape what they needed to sustain their livelihood and the one of their families but not in these current times. 

El Buss Camp 
The El Buss Palestine refugee camp is located 1.5 kilometers south of Tyre in Lebanon next to the main Roman ruins in the city. Originally built by the French government in 1937 for Armenian refugees who survived the Armenian genocide from the 1930s until the 1950s. 

They were later moved to the Anjar area in the 1950s, where Palestinians from Galilee sought shelter in their place. The location of the camp, being on the main road of Tyre and its small size was the saving grace of the camp. Unlike the other refugee camps in Lebanon, El Buss was spared from much of the violence that other camps experienced during the Lebanese civil war. 
The camp covers a total area of approximately 1 square kilometer. The camp has several entrances for pedestrians, but only one for vehicles. Entry and exit are controlled at a checkpoint by the Lebanese military. Foreign visitors must present documentation like ID. 
In 2017, 687 buildings were counted with 1,356 households in the camp.  Most of the buildings are concrete block shelters, built by the residents themselves granted to be of poor quality and in an informal manner.  
As of 2013, the population in the camp reached 11,254 but recently the population expanded due to the influx of both Palestine and Syrian refugees displaced by the ongoing Syria conflict. 


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