UN unable to gain access to parts of Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon

Adla Massoud

The National  /  August 10, 2023

Instability after clashes between Islamist factions and Fatah forces is blocking international aid.

The UN Relief and Works Agency said on Thursday that access to half of a refugee camp in southern Lebanon has been cut off following armed clashes between Palestinian factions last month.

Dorothee Klaus, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, said that half of the camp was still considered a “hot area” and unsafe for UN personnel.

“Currently, we’re not having clearance from the Lebanese military to go inside those areas as the Lebanese military is in control of access to the camp,” she said.

“There are no hostilities going on, but armed fighters are still dispositioned. The camp remains unstable at this point in time.”

On July 29, clashes erupted in Ain al-Hilweh camp between Islamist factions and the National Security Forces of the Fatah movement before a ceasefire was agreed to.

The fighting resulted in 12 deaths and more than 60 injuries in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, which is located in the outskirts of Sidon.

Under the 1969 Cairo Agreement, the Lebanese military cannot be deployed inside Palestinian camps. Palestinian factions present in the camps are in charge of their security.

“Many of the camps have been destroyed not only once but several times,” Klaus said.

“Ain al-Hilweh in particular, which is home to over 50,000 Palestinian refugees is undergoing these bouts of violence and clashes and destructions of their habitat on a regular basis.”

According to the UN, 93 per cent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line.

About 500,000 people are registered as Palestinian refugees in 12 camps across Lebanon, although the actual number living in them is believed to be closer to 200,000 as many Palestinians emigrate from Lebanon but remain registered through the UN agency.

Klaus said the Palestinian community in Lebanon has faced bleak prospects for the past 75 years.

They continue to be barred from pursuing careers in mainstream middle-class fields such as medicine, law and engineering. Those who aspired to these professions are now grappling with desperation or have already moved away, leaving behind populations that are exceptionally vulnerable.

“Around 50 per cent of the men above the age of 16 are currently unemployed, and the remainder have sporadic employment and all of that, of course, reflects in the income and their ability to sustain themselves,” she said.

UNRWA provides food, cash assistance and other basic services to an estimated 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the Palestinian territories as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Adla Massoud – UN correspondent