Through these photos, from the collaborative documentary project 'Humans of Al Rashidiya', digital storyteller Mary Mitchell highlights the reality of Syrians living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.
The Palestinian camp of Al Rashidiya in South Lebanon was first built in 1936 to accommodate Armenian refugees, and then extended in 1963 for Palestinian refugees. With a rising population and legislation prohibiting Palestinians from buying property outside the camps, infrastructure is dated and decaying – there is still no sewerage system, and an open drain runs through the narrow walkways between multi-story housing. Yet for some of the roughly 50,000 Palestinians from Syria seeking refuge in Lebanon, Al Rashidiya has become home. These photos, from the collaborative documentary project ‘Humans of Al Rashidiya’, launched this week, tell the stories of Syrians living in the camp.
SHELTERED IN RENTED apartments, garages and empty shops, Palestinian refugees from Syria are waiting out the conflict, some with no hope of ever returning home. One of the most pressing challenges facing The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency responsible for supporting Palestinian refugees from Syria, is that of providing education. Over seven thousand Palestinian refugees from Syria are attending UNRWA schools across the country, with the majority being educated separately from Lebanon’s Palestinian community in classes designed to minimise the disruptive transfer from the Syrian to Lebanon syllabus. Despite these achievements the overall enrolment rate is still low.
“I’ve never been to school. In Syria children don’t go to school until the age of 7, and by the time I was 7 we had already left. I haven’t been to school here. I would like to go to school to become educated and get a job.”
“I came here from Syria a year and a half ago. I want to be a doctor.”
“America is good because they have democracy and freedom.”
Although some have found safety in Al Rashidiya, the Lebanese authorities’ deportation of Palestinians from Syria in May and the need to register every six months results in a constant fear of being forcibly returned to a country in turmoil.
THE GOVERNMENT has also been criticised for singling out Palestinians through discriminatory policies set up in May 2014 restricting Palestinians fleeing Syria from entering Lebanon without permission from the Lebanese General Security. Many are questioning why the government is targeting just one group of refugees fleeing Syria – a group that represents only 50,000 of the more than one million refugees in Lebanon.
“I’m from the Sabina refugee camp for Palestinians in Damascus. We came here because our house was destroyed – we had no choice.”
“I work here with the newcomers from Syria, running theatre puppet shows with NGOs all across Lebanon. I’m from Syria too.” “What does your tattoo say?” “Music and peace.”
In Al Rashidiya camp Sawa’ed youth group has just finished the voluntary distribution of welcome kits to refugees from Lebanon, donated by the Danish Refugee Council, each kit consisting of mattresses, blankets, a kitchen set and a hygiene kit. The kits benefitted 150,000 refugees in the 3 Palestinian camps and 12 gatherings in Southern Lebanon. “The Palestinian community has experienced the problems of becoming a refugee,” says co-founder Tareq Moneim. “We know all too well what it means to leave your home and move to a new place, and it’s therefore important to us to provide hospitality to those coming from Syria.”
IN LIGHT OF recent reports of rising violence by private citizens against Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the hospitality of Palestinian communities in already difficult living conditions is perhaps surprising.
Abu Ahmed, who rents out two apartments in the camp to Palestinians from Syria, lowers his voice to tell me that his son has struggled to find work since the Syrians arrived in Lebanon. “What we Palestinians will do for $5 they will do for $3,” he said. Then he stops to think and adds, “But the Syrians are the only ones who understand how we feel. They’re living in exile too.”