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Fleeing Syria, Palestinian refugees cram Beirut camp

Fleeing the violence in their adoptive country, thousands of Palestinian refugees have crossed the Syrian border into Lebanon in recent days, cramming into already over-crowded and decrepit camps. Our reporter visited the Shatila camp in Beirut.


Thousands of Palestinian migrants have fled Syria for Lebanon in recent days, cramming into refugee camps that have been housing Palestinians since the creation of Israel in 1948.

Palestinian refugee camps in Syria have been devastated by the civil war, particularly the sprawling Yarmouk camp near Damascus, which has hosted violent clashes between pro-regime fighters and rebel militants, who are said to be hiding weapons in the camp.

Many new refugees from Yarmouk and other sites have come to Shatila, a cavernous and delapidated camp south of Beirut that has been hosting homeless Palestinians for more than six decades.

Shatila is a maze of dank, dark alleyways criss-crossed by faulty electrical wiring. The somber camp has little to offer these desperate refugees, but hundreds still continue to arrive on a daily basis.

“People are fleeing death,” aid worker Dellair Youssef told our reporter. “Some arrive barefoot, with nothing in their pockets. Others only have the clothes on their back.”

Before fighting in Syria broke out 21 months ago, Shatila accommodated 17,000 people. According to camp officials, some 200 Palestinian families have arrived at the camp this week alone. “Three or four families have to live in the same room,” said Kazem Hassan, the camp's manager.

One new arrival told us that he and his family were forced to leave everything behind. “When the fighting started we fled towards Takadom [a district within the Yarmouk camp near Damascus] before finding refuge in the camp, then we escaped towards Lebanon,” he said. “We couldn’t bring anything with us, no money, no clothes.”

But while humanitarian organisations are working around the clock to provide the bare essentials for these families, there is a long wait for even the most basic needs.

A young boy found sitting on a pile of mattresses told our reporter that he and his family arrived in the camp 10 days ago, but they have yet to find a place to sleep. “We have nothing here, no one gives us anything,” he said. “I hope I can find a place where I can sleep well with a blanket.”

According to official figures, some 2,800 Palestinians crossed into Lebanon this week alone.

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