Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lebanon's refugee waiting room

By Andrew Wander in Beirut

""We thought we would be here for a few months," says Huda al-Rukun, her red-rimmed eyes flicking around the tiny space she shares with her husband and five children. "No-one believed we would stay this long."

Twenty-three years after they were forced out of the nearby Shatila refugee camp during a particularly bloody phase of the Lebanese civil war known as the War of the Camps, the Palestinian al-Rukun family are one of hundreds still living in a disused hospital in south Beirut.

The conflict may have finished 19 years ago, but many of those who fled the fighting have not been allowed back. Rebuilding was only permitted on the original site of camp, so those who had lived in the unofficial settlements attached to Shatila found themselves homeless........

Particularly vulnerable

The community is known as a "gathering," the name given to any informal Palestinian settlement outside Lebanon's 12 official camps.

Officials say that almost half of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon now live in gatherings, where they are particularly vulnerable to poverty and ill-health.

"Palestinians in Lebanon live with a very high unemployment rate, and have limited access to public services and to the job market. This makes them poorer than Palestinians living in other countries," says Hoda el Turk, a spokeswoman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Lebanon, which is tasked with providing services for Palestinian refugees......"

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