Poverty, unemployment and violence in Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon have a disproportionate impact on refugee women. Yesterday, Interpal’s All Women’s Delegation visited Saida, to speak to healthcare workers, teachers and refugee students about the very real difficulties they face dealing with continued displacement.

The Balsama Centre

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The Balsama Clinic provides artificial limbs, physiotherapy and speech therapy for refugees with disabilities in Saida. It has been operating for over three years and provides a welcoming environment for its patients, which is hugely important for those recovering from physical trauma. The centre works closely with families and mothers to improve care at home for children. It also subsidises treatment fees for the most needy.

The delegation spoke to Mr Ramzy, the Director of the Centre, about the particular difficulties facing refugees. The majority of patients at the centre are Palestinian or Syrian refugees who cannot obtain services through the Lebanese Ministry of Health. Many do not have the relevant legal paperwork and find that as a result, their access to services (including those of the Lebanese Red Cross) is limited.  Because of this, the centre visits patients in other cities to care for their needs.

What has stood out the most to our delegates is that unemployment  is a massive concern across all the refugee camps visited, with poverty causing social illnesses that lock refugees in to hopeless situations. It is for this reason that Interpal has invested in supporting education and vocational training for refugees.

Al Insaani School

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Al Insaani is a newly built school that serves over 250 students while paying for students’ fees and transportation. Without the school many of the children would be forced to stay at home. For this reason, Interpal is pleased to be a key supporter.

While visiting the school, the envoy spoke to its director and students. One of the students, Yassine, from Syria, provided a speech on her own concerns for her fellow Syrian refugees and their collective wish to return home. They also met Miss Yenala, an English teacher, who spoke of the difficulties she faces teaching children dealing with trauma. Although her students are dealing with poverty and marginalisation as they adjust to life in Lebanon, Miss Yenala is immensely proud of their capabilities as they develop their skills.

The next stop was Al Rahma Centre, which provides vocational training, and where Interpal sponsors thirty female students. The importance of supporting this initiative cannot be understated, as it gives young girls the opportunity to work towards their careers and avoid the poverty trap that would otherwise prevent them from pursuing their ambitions. The delegation spoke with some of the students, who expressed how happy they were to be at the centre.

Directly listening to refugees puts into perspective the real difficulties that they face. Beyond their deprivation and economic struggles, they have experienced the very real trauma of being torn from their communities as they struggle to maintain their dignity in the face of negativity.

Ein el Helweh Camp

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Ein el Helweh Camp is the largest and possibly most volatile refugee camp in Lebanon.

The delegation was able to make a number of home visits here, which provided the opportunity to see the camp properly, with its cramped alleyways, pot-holed roads and dangerously low hang hanging tangles of wires and electric cables. The air in the camp is polluted, and with so many buildings, parts of it are in perpetual darkness.

The envoy also visited Khalid Ibn Waheed Medical Centre which Interpal previously helped set up. They heard from staff members about the negative impact that checkpoints in the camp have on their work. When fighting takes place in or around the camp, many doctors are unable to enter to treat people. Doctors need permits to leave the camp even to just simply replace oxygen canisters.

The camp is busy, tense and is struggling to manage over 100,000 residents in an extremely limited space. The influx of almost 15,000 Syrian refugees is putting further stain on services.

The visits in Saida allowed the delegation to bear witness to the experiences of many women struggling with poverty, depression and raising their children in a mentally and physically dangerous environment. It was sobering to see how refugee-hood, lack of mobility and poverty all intersect to cause widespread social problems within communities, including violence and abuse.

Stay tuned for more updates from Palestinian refugee camps as the delegation makes its final stop in Beirut today.