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Prisons See Institutionalised Injustice

18 Jul

In April, the biggest prison riot in Lebanese history broke out in Roumieh penitentiary,  prompting relatives of inmates to protest conditions inside [EPA]By Dalila Mahdawi

When Joanna Bailey (not her real name), a British journalist formerly based in Lebanon, became the victim of a sexual assault in Beirut, she sought help at a local police station. As she was giving her statement, the police dragged her assailant into the room. The man had been beaten up, and was subjected to further violence in front of her.

“One of the officers took off his belt and began beating him with it for what felt like ten minutes.” When Bailey asked the officers to stop, “they said it was the only way he would learn,” she recalls.

“After that they made him strip down to his underwear in front of me and jog on the spot for about 30 minutes.” Bailey left feeling not only profoundly disturbed by the assault on her, but distressed at the extrajudicial punishment meted out to her attacker.

Such stories of ritual humiliation, mistreatment and beatings are familiar to many detainees in Lebanon. A lack of training and poor human rights awareness among police officers means many turn to violence to obtain confessions from suspects.

According to a report released earlier this year by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), around 60 percent of detainees experience some form of torture or mistreatment. One death as a result of torture was recorded in 2010, the report said.

Those suspected of espionage, drug dealing and religious extremism are most likely to be subjected to abuse by the police. All this takes place in a culture of impunity, says Wadih Al-Asmar, secretary- general of CLDH: “Police officers are not well trained and there is no real accountability. In the very few cases that have been investigated, the results remain confidential.”

Prison conditions are just as bleak as those at police stations, with inmates being locked away without trial for years in grossly overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. With almost no rehabilitation services available, most prisoners spend their days confined to their cells, chain-smoking, chatting and, when tempers flare, fighting.

In the last three years, 400 people arrested on security charges have been subjected to procedure violations that made their detention arbitrary, the CLDH report found.

“It’s a disaster,” says Ghassan Moukheiber, an MP who heads the Lebanese Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and who has produced a detailed report on prison reform. “The situation is dire. I qualify prisons as fitting into the following categories – bad, very bad or inhumane. The prison conditions are themselves equal to torture, cruel and degrading treatment.”

Lebanon’s 20 prisons can officially hold 3,653 inmates, but in 2010 provided an uncomfortable abode to some 5,324 prisoners, an earlier CLDH report found. Roumieh, Lebanon’s biggest men’s prison, built with a maximum capacity of 1,500 inmates, held about 3,500. According to Moukheiber, with the exception of Roumieh, none of Lebanon’s prisons were built specifically as penitentiaries.

Lebanon is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as its Optional Protocol, but has not yet fulfilled its obligation to establish a National Preventative Mechanism against torture. It is also several years overdue in submitting a report to the Convention’s Committee on the measures it is taking to implement the treaty.

In a damning 2009 report to the Lebanese government by General Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), the body which overlooks prison administration, two-thirds of all prisoners were found to be awaiting sentencing. Around 250 foreign prisoners remained in prison after completing their sentences, largely due to deportation complications, Rifi said.

Most were imprisoned for lacking the necessary paperwork to remain in Lebanon and included a number of refugees and asylum seekers.

With minimal funding being allocated to penitentiaries, Moukheiber told IPS that the Lebanese state was failing to provide prisoners with the vital rehabilitation, health and educational services they needed in order to reintegrate back into society.

But despite the gloomy outlook, criminologist Omar Nashabe insists slow improvements are under way. The number of inmates at Roumieh has fallen, he says. “That’s a big step forward because it allows the prison administration to better control the prison.”

However, basic services and security remain problematic. Prisoners often have to undertake hunger strikes or other extreme measures in order to access medical care, and escape attempts are frequent.

In April, Roumieh saw one of the biggest prison riots in Lebanese history. Prisoners were able to break down doors and take control of much of the prison in a stand-off which resulted in the death of four inmates.

Although the government has allocated five million dollars to refurbish the prison, Nashabe admits the figure won’t even cover repair costs. “Some of the doors inside the prison are still without locks and there are still problems with electricity and water.”

Nevertheless, Nashabe says that the riot prompted the Lebanese judicial authorities to be more flexible with incarceration as a pre-trial measure and punishment. A five-year plan to transfer management of the prisons from the ISF to a specialised body within the Justice Ministry is also under way, he says.

But according to Moukheiber, “it is not a panacea just to switch prison administration from one ministry to another. The appropriate solution is much more complex,” involving a string of measures, including building new facilities, improving access to healthcare, rehabilitation services and legal aid, and specialised training of prison staff and judges.

For many prisoners, such improvements will come too late. Twenty-seven year-old Marwan (not his real name) has been in prison for two years awaiting sentencing for drug dealing. “It’s unacceptable that I haven’t been sentenced yet,” he told IPS via a smart phone he’d managed to smuggle behind bars.

The police “haven’t got any evidence against me, only testimonies from a few people.” Marwan, who hasn’t yet been able to meet with a lawyer, says he expects to be incarcerated “at least another three years.” (END)

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US rights report: corruption still plagues Lebanon

14 Mar

Penalties present, but seldomly enforced
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, March 13, 2010

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government is riddled with corruption and while human-rights abuses are not as flagrant as elsewhere in the Arab world, they continue largely unabated, according to the US State Department.

The Lebanon section of the 2009 report on human-rights practices, which was released late Thursday, also noted substandard detention facilities, arbitrary detention, lack of rights for women, refugees and other minorities, privacy infringements and restrictions on freedoms of speech and press as major issues hindering the enjoyment of human rights in the country.

“The government provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the penalties were seldom enforced, and government corruption was a serious problem,” the report said, noting a lack of transparency and public access to government documents or information about the financial assets of public officials. It reiterated reports by local organizations Transparency Lebanon and the Lebanese Transparency Association, which noted systematic clientelism, judicial failures, electoral fraud, and bribery among politicians.

The Lebanese government was unable to exercise total control over its affairs because of impunity and armed presence of Hizbullah, the report said. “It remained difficult to distinguish politically motivated crimes … from simply criminal acts or disputes, as the government did not exercise control over all its territory and investigations of suspicious killings rarely led to prosecutions,” the report added.

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee made little progress over the course of the year, mainly because of the absence of a government for five months. “At year’s end there was no evidence that the committee had begun implementing the existing national action plan calling for legal changes to guide ministries on protecting specific human rights.”

The Lebanese people suffered “limitations” on their right to change their government peacefully, the report said, noting a continuation of politically motivated killings and disappearance of a Lebanese citizen, Joseph Sader, which may also have been politically driven.

The whereabouts of Sader, an MEA official, have remained unknown for over a year.

Conditions in prison and detention centers remained below minimum international standards, with facilities packed to almost twice their capacity. The report said three cases of prisoner-on-prisoner rape occurred in Roumieh prison during the year and quoted an unidentified non-governmental organization as saying 27 prisoners had died “primarily due to authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care.” Arbitrary imprisonment and illegal detention of refugees was also pervasive, with charges against officials responsible for prolonged arrest rarely filed.

 

There was evidence that government officials tortured detainees and forced them to sign forged confessions. The Lebanese government continued to deny the use of torture, though authorities did acknowledge “violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations … where suspects were interrogated without an attorney.” The report added that while security agencies and the Lebanese police force are subject to laws prohibiting bribery and extortion, enforcement of those laws were weak.

Flouting national laws, Lebanese authorities “frequently interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government,” the report said, noting phone tapping and other monitoring by the security services.

Freedom of speech and of the press also came under fire, with the report noting political violence and intimidations lead journalists to practice self-censorship. Most media outlets have political affiliations, sometimes hindering their “ability to operate freely in areas dominated by other political groups and affected the objectivity of their reporting.” A number of journalists also received threats against them and their families for their work, and officials instigated libel and other lawsuits against journalists in an effort to suppress criticism.

Lebanon continued to discriminate against women in a number of issues including personal status and citizenship, and was a transit point and destination for trafficked persons. “The government provided legal assistance to domestic violence victims who could not afford it, but in most cases police ignored complaints submitted by battered or abused women.”

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has published country reports on human rights practices in 194 countries and territories for the last 34 years. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said the annual reports provide a fact-base for American diplomatic, economic and strategic policy-making. “These reports are an essential tool … to craft effective human-rights policy, we need good assessments of the situation on the ground in the places we want to make a difference,” she said in the report’s preface.

Podcasts tell humanizing stories from the Arab world

26 Feb

Beirut-based NGO hopes to transform the West’s negative stereotypes of region
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, February 26, 2010

BEIRUT: A podcast can’t change the world, but it can help change perceptions. Stories of Our City is a new non-governmental organization in Beirut hoping to transform stereotypes about the Arab world, one podcast at a time.

Stories of Our City was started up by American citizens Katy Gilbert and Bart Cochran in an effort to contribute to peace and provide a better understanding of the troubled Middle East. The idea took hold when Gilbert realized many of her fellow Americans had distorted views of the Arab world. “People were amazed that I lived there,” said Gilbert, who before relocating to Lebanon, lived in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. “When I would say that Jordan was safer than any major city in the US, people would just be floored.”

To shake off the persistent stereotype that all Arabs are Muslim terrorists, Stories of Our City every Monday uploads a podcast telling the story of an ordinary Arab individual, hoping to nurture a sense of community and common ground with American audiences. The stories are told through ad-hoc conversation, touching on all sorts of subjects from dreams or memories, to fears and hopes.

One woman recounts her childhood at an orphanage in southern Lebanon and her first meeting with her biological mother as a 16-year-old. Another man talks about his work in a tattoo parlor. The idea is for Americans “to think better of the people here in the Middle East,” Gilbert said.

“That they’re normal people with faces and who are not so different that we can’t relate to them.” Better understanding of the “other” as human beings will help rally support for less violent policy making, she added. “A lot of studies have shown that when you place distance between yourself and others, it’s easier to disregard them and rationalize violence.”

Most of the podcasts currently available are about Lebanese, Jordanians or Emiratis, although there are plans to collect stories from across the Arab world. “There are hard stories here but we’re trying to share points of hope as well.” People are more than happy to contribute to the project once they know it’s aimed at transforming popular American opinion about Arabs, Gilbert added.

Listeners not familiar with the Lebanon’s long history of migration may be surprised to hear the varied accents of some of the speakers. European, American, and Arab-accented Lebanese recount stories about childhood memories of washing the dishes or moving, dreams of being artists and of change in society. “My father’s Muslim, my mother’s Christian, and we just don’t know what’s going on,” laughed one storyteller. “We celebrate everything. We have no issues with religion, we’re open to everything.”

In one podcast, Beirut resident Ronnie recalled a conversation he overheard between two boys playing football. “One of them said, ‘you remember during the war when we were playing football?’ The other one asks him, ‘which war?’ That tells you how many wars have happened in this child’s life,” Ronnie said. “We shouldn’t even have any wars, period.”

With over 5,000 downloads since June, the podcasts have met with great success. “We’ve had a great response from the US, it’s been really encouraging,” Gilbert said. She hopes audiences will continue to listen to the podcasts over time to get a better picture of the lives of their contemporaries across the Arab world.

Eventually, Stories of the City hopes to tell the stories of people all over the world, not just in conflict zones. The organization is also encouraging listeners to get involved, either through submitting their own story or by collecting other people’s testimonies.

To download a podcast or submit a story, visit http://www.storiesofourcity.wordpress.com

UNRWA determined not to scale back amid crippling funding crisis

6 Dec
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, December 05, 2009
BEIRUT: The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees is struggling with a “dire” financial crisis but will not cut back on its provision of services, its head of operations in Lebanon said Friday. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on Wednesday it was facing its worst budget deficit in history. According to a recent document posted on the agency’s website concerning UNRWA’s financial situation, a shortfall of $79.6 million for 2009 and $125.7 million for 2010 has been projected. It said a continuing lack of funds since 2005 had “resulted in the complete depletion of UNRWA’s working capital.
“UNRWA is faced with a dire financial crisis,” Salvatore Lombardo, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, told The Daily Star. He said the agency’s operations in Lebanon were facing a $9 million deficit for 2010. “We have been operating with approximately the same budgets for the last [several] years whilst the needs are growing considerably and the cost of services is increasing,” he said. “Our expected budget is 14 percent less than what UNRWA needs to cover the most basic requirements of Palestine refugees.” 
The UN official added that although the agency would continue to provide health care, education and relief and social services, the standards of those services would drop. “Whilst UNRWA strives to ensure services are not cut, the overall environment it operates in will deteriorate,” he added. 
There are over 422,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, most of who live in the country’s 12 squalid refugee camps. 
The figure may no longer be accurate, however, as UNRWA does not remove refugees who have moved abroad from its records. There are also an unknown number of nonregistered refugees and an additional 40,000 Palestinians residing in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods. 
UNRWA has routinely faced funding shortages in the past, but the ongoing international financial crisis and a lack of financial reserves have resulted in a “situation of unprecedented gravity,” the UNRWA website said. 
The agency held its annual pledging conference at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, hoping the international community would respond to its financial emergency. “It would be timely, and extremely welcome, if UNRWA was to receive new pledges of support from unexpected quarters or else the announcement of increase in funding from those that have historically underperformed in this respect,” said Andrew Whitley on behalf of UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Abu Zayd ahead of the conference. 
“The refugees and our 30,000-strong Palestinian staff, who live in great anxiety these days about the prospect of further reductions in their modest living standards, would be enormously relieved.” UNRWA has warned salary cuts were straining relations with its employees. 
But Lombardo said that while pledges were made at the conference, it was “not enough to cover the shortfall for 2010.” 
Speaking in September on the occasion of UNRWA’s 60th anniversary, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the agency’s serious funding shortages and appealed to the international community to give generously. “The agency’s work is too important for it to suffer budget crisis after budget crisis,” he said. 
UNRWA’s funding shortfall will impact other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with Palestinians, said John Viste of ANERA, an American NGO which provides humanitarian relief aid to Palestinian refugees. “It does affect us when UNRWA services are cut back.” 
Medicine, normally provided by UNRWA, was a case in point, Viste said. “If they don’t have any medicine available, others have to fill in the gap. If they can’t provide then the Palestinians are forced to buy, which places greater strain on their resources.” 
In spite of the financial difficulties, UNRWA is pursuing internal reform that requires no additional funding, Lombardo said. “We are committed to improving the management of our services. We will do so through decentralizing decision-making to the head teachers, medical officers and relief workers that run our schools, clinics and camp officers, communicating better with our beneficiaries and eliminating bureaucracy in our processes.” 
Nevertheless, the cutbacks have raised fears that the security situation in the camps could explode. “The consequences of the financial deficit extend beyond the level of quality of services we provide,” Lombardo said. “Instability feeds on poverty and a lack of opportunities. There are very concrete steps that can be taken to push back against such scenario. 
“Providing health, education, and relief and social services means not only teaching the young, caring for the sick and fending for the poor. It means creating a platform of stability on which future political progress can rest. UNRWA is part of the solution here in Lebanon,” he said.

Refugee boss urges better deal for Palestinians

13 Nov

Crippling restrictions breed ‘radicalism’ and ‘militancy’ in Lebanon’s camps
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 13, 2009
BEIRUT: The deprivation faced by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should be eased to allow for a greater sense of security and prosperity among the extremely marginalized community, the chief of the United Nations Palestinian relief agency said Thursday. Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said the extreme poverty and desperation endured by Palestinian refugees pushed disaffected youth into the clutches of militancy.

While Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Syria are seen as “enjoying the broadest spectrum of freedoms,” those in Lebanon face considerably more difficulties, she said.

“Here, the currents of vulnerability are very much in evidence,” said AbuZayd.

There are 422,188 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as well as an unknown number of non-registered Palestinians who fall outside of the scope of UNRWA. An additional 40,000 Palestinians reside in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods consisting of 25 or more Palestinian houses.

The memory of the role Palestinians played in Lebanon’s devastating 1975-90 Civil War, the fragility of Lebanon’s sectarian and political system, the susceptibility of the country’s 12 refugee camps to foreign actors, and factional splits within the camps only exacerbated divisions between the Lebanese and Palestinians, and the Palestinians themselves, AbuZayd argued.

“In the years since the early 1990s, there has been a progressive isolation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, both in a physical sense of limiting their presence to the camps, and in terms of the constrictions and scope of economic and civil rights they enjoy,” she said.

Unlike their compatriots in Jordan, Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy legal status and have little access to medical, education and social services outside the provisions of UNWRA. The refugees are subject to severe restrictions of movement, forbidden from owning or repairing property and are barred from all but the most menial professions. An unknown number of Palestinians without formal identification are even more vulnerable to chronic poverty.

But AbuZayd said there were clear advantages to granting the Palestinian refugees greater rights.

“Marginalization and entrenched poverty have never served the ends of security and stability,” she said. “Restrictions breed radicalism and create an atmosphere in which disaffected youth become receptive to the call of militancy and violence.”

Boosting economic activity, raising living standards and expanding the currently limited choices afforded to Palestinians “are goals whose benefits will expand beyond the camps boundaries,” AbuZayd argued.

The existence of Palestinian and other refugees also lays a burden of duty upon the international community to uphold basic human rights during periods of asylum, she said.

So long as refugees are unable to return to their homes, the global community and host countries are “duty bound” to ensure the displaced enjoy their human rights and have access to social services and other provisions, said AbuZayd.

Her remarks came weeks before she is due to step down from her position, held since June 2005. A US national, AbuZayd has 28 years of professional experience in refugee work and previously served as an assistant secretary general of the UN and deputy commissioner-general of UNRWA.

Palestinian refugees living unofficial gatherings suffer ‘squalid’ conditions

13 Aug

Dalila Mahdawi

Daily Star Staff

BEIRUT: Fetid squatter toilets in bathrooms that open onto other rooms, drinking water contaminated with fecal matter and rusty zinc roofs protected from the elements by flimsy plastic sheeting: according to a new report, these features can be found at a number of Palestinian houses outside of Lebanon’s official refugee camps.

Between February and June of this year, the international non-governmental organizations Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Premiere Urgence (PU) carried out a comprehensive assessment of the living conditions of Palestinians residing in 42 so called “gatherings,” or neighborhoods consisting of 25 or more Palestinian houses.

The survey, funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department, is the first to employ a house to house methodology and provides the first truly comprehensive assessment of the state of housing and infrastructure in the neglected areas.

“The findings reveal that approximately 40,000 Palestinian refugees currently live in gatherings outside of the 12 official UNRWA camps,” said Julien Mulliez, Head of Mission for Premiere Urgence, referring to the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees. Previous estimates had put the figure at around 60,000. “Despite being registered refugees, residents of these gatherings are unable to access support from the agency to maintain their homes and ensure safe and adequate access to water and sanitation,” he added.

A total of 11 percent of the refugees living in the gatherings “inhabit shelters that threaten health and prevent social well being,” affecting 897 households and around 4,000 people, the report found. Many shelters had large cracks in the walls, unsafe rafters, or were without windows, internal bathrooms or kitchens.

Eight of the 39 gatherings assessed were found to suffer from “urgent” water and sanitation needs, while 12 others had “moderate” needs. “In those eight gatherings, the level of hygiene is very poor and bacteriological contamination of water was detected or was estimated very likely to occur soon given the critical condition of the water sources and networks.”

Several sewage systems were deemed outdated, damaged or insufficient to the area’s needs, putting residents at risk of drinking contaminated drinking water and contact with sewage. Drinking water was often found to be unchlorinated, forcing many residents to spend a disproportionate amount of their household income of buying bottled water.

“Many of these houses face chronic structural or weatherproofing problems as well as basic hygiene issues,” said Graziella Ito-Pellegri, a Shelter Advisor for NRC. “This means that many families face leakages in winter and intense heat in summer. Many buildings are at risk of collapsing and families are forced to live without running water or a kitchen.”

Basic standards could be easily improved through awareness and capacity building activities, “such as information sessions on water related hygiene and training for technicians in charge of the water treatment,” the report said.

Having identified key housing, water and sanitation needs in the gatherings, the NRC and PU hope the report will provide donors and other NGOs with ideas for new rehabilitation projects. “Additional funding is crucial to ensure that basic human rights are upheld in terms of shelter, water and sanitation” for the Palestinian refugees living in the gatherings,” Mulliez said.

Noting the fact that Palestinian refugees do not have the right to own land or property, the report recommended future initiatives to improve shelter or water and sanitation in the gatherings be tied to legal assistance projects. If the sufficient funds were gathered, the most crucial housing needs could be rectified within four years. “This report should be the basis for an intervention plan,” concluded the report. “If no concrete measures are taken [soon], the situation in the field will worsen and the refugees will be exposed to severe risks.”

Enforced Idleness in Nahr al-Bared

24 Jun
With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

BEIRUT: Fiddling with mobile phones, chain smoking and sitting around: enforced idleness is the burden of almost every single resident in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

Their abysmal situation is the focus of a new film, “A Sip of Coffee,” produced by a-films, an international anarchist film collective presently focusing its efforts on the camp. Those in the collective run film-making workshops within the camp in the hope of promoting film-making as a tool for political activism, a-films activist Ray Smith told The Daily Star. He produced with film along with novice film-maker Mohammad Eshtawi.

Situated 16 kilometers North of Tripoli, Nahr al-Bared used to be a source of pride for its residents – with a thriving economy and bustling market attracting both Lebanese and Palestinian customers, it was the most prosperous of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. Its luck turned for the worst in 2007 when a militant Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam, sought refuge in the camp. A three-month battle between the group and the Lebanese Armed Forces, ending on September 2, resulted in the total annihilation of the camp. Nahr al-Bared’s Palestinian residents found themselves displaced for a second time in history, losing everything they had saved and built up over the last 60 years. Two years on from that devastating war, the camp has been partially cleared of rubble, but the people of Nahr al-Bared remain in limbo: living in temporary housing units as they wait for the reconstruction to begin. Nahr al-Bared’s once robust economy was destroyed along with the camp.

“A Sip of Coffee” revolves around the testimonies of Mohammad, an unemployed camp resident in his twenties, and his father Ziyad. Through their voices, the 26-minute film illustrates the issues that matter most to Nahr al-Bared’s residents: unemployment, reconstruction, displacement and endless, stifling monotony.

Mohammad spends most of his days doing nothing. “Although the week has seven days, we feel as though it only has one day, and it’s always the same one,” he says in the film. “There’s nowhere to go, there are no clubs and no libraries to borrow books to try and educate oneself.”

Mohammad has tried to get a job but there simply aren’t any. What work he can find is often casual day labor. Mohammad’s father Ziyad has also struggled to find work after losing his two shops in the camp’s siege. “After the destruction of Nahr al-Bared and its declaration as a military zone, the economy was reduced to point zero … the camp’s economy depended on the [Lebanese] residents of the Akkar region,” he tells the camera in a resigned voice. He now scrapes money together by fishing and running a makeshift cafe.

Resentment is growing steadily among the camp’s residents as the many promises made to rebuild the destroyed camp falter. The stifling living conditions in the temporary housing units, oppressively hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, only aggravate their anger. “I’m sorry to say it, but we live in cow sheds,” Mohammad says. NGOs call the cramped iron and concrete structures temporary but they feel permanent to many of those struggling inside. “When my family and I gather in the evening, I hardly know where to sit – it’s very crowded,” Mohammad says.

Ziyad shares his frustration. “The population density always causes problem between the families who aren’t used to each other,” he says. Ziyad, like many others, fear they will be displaced forever, and participate in protests urging the authorities to begin immediate reconstruction of the camp.

“People rightfully feel that they’ve lost control over their lives, because their lives are being ‘managed’ by NGOs and UNRWA (the UN agency dedicated to providing assistance to Palestinian refugees), and because their movement is limited by the Army’s checkpoint and permit system,” said Smith. 

Although a ceremony was held this March to mark the beginning of reconstruction, nothing has happened since then.

Ziyad appears to have given up hope that Nahr al-Bared will ever be rebuilt, saying he’ll only believe in the promises of officials when he sees construction material entering the camp. “I can’t believe in all these empty promises and lies by [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora and [PLO Representative in Lebanon] Abbas Zaki.”