Lebanon + 1 more

Children still caught in crossfire at refugee camp in Lebanon

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Beirut, Lebanon (June 5, 2007) -- As the crisis at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli enters its third week, several thousand children and family members remain trapped inside the camp, caught in the middle of a continuing conflict between the Lebanese army and the armed faction Fatah al-Islam.

Lack of drinking water, food, medicine, health services and safe areas for children are putting many children and family members inside the camp at risk, according to Save the Children's partners working at the Nahr Al Bared camp.

Providing critical protection for children also remains a major concern, with periodic shelling, gunfire and snipers posing a serious threat to children.

Since the fighting erupted on May 20, at least 27 civilians have been killed and 125 injured, including at least 30 children, according to Save the Children's partners. With the crisis still evolving, these estimates are likely to rise.

Heavy shelling also has damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings inside the camp including homes, schools, businesses and community centers.

Of the more than 31,000 registered refugees living in the camp prior to the violence, more than 15,000 have sought refuge in the Beddawi camp, located about 12 km from the Nahr al-Bared camp. Many families have made the journey by foot. The population of the Beddawi camp, estimated at more than 16,000 prior to the violence, has doubled in size in recent days.

Displaced refugees in the Beddawi camp are being housed in crowded schools and other public buildings and face a range of health, environmental and social problems. Children, the elderly and the sick are especially vulnerable.

The fighting within the camp is the most serious Lebanon has seen since the end of the civil war in 1990. There is growing concern that the current situation could lead to destabilization in the 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon, where approximately 400,000 Palestinians reside.

The Save the Children Alliance is calling for:

- Both sides to refrain from any means or methods of attack that cannot discriminate between military targets and civilians, particularly children.

- A safe passage that allows humanitarian agencies access to the camp and civilians to leave.

- The Lebanese authorities to work with the international community and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to improve overall living conditions in Palestinian refugee camps. This includes housing, infrastructure, health, education and employment opportunities, all of which have worsened as a result of the current outbreak of violence.

Background

Working closely with local partners, the Save the Children Alliance is working in Nahr al-Bared camp and other locations across Lebanon to improve the lives of children regardless of race, religion or gender.

The Red Cross established Nahr al-Bared in 1949 to accommodate refugees from northern Palestine following the creation of Israel. With roughly 30,000-35,000 residents, the camp has been run since 1950 by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The living situation in the Lebanese camps presents significant challenges to the health and well-being of children and their families, and many children do not have access to basic education.

In Lebanon, most Palestinians in refugee camps cannot legally work, trapping at least 60 percent of them in poverty.

Palestinian children are effectively excluded from Lebanese public schools. Although UNRWA is required to provide Palestinian children with elementary and preparatory education, about 60 percent of the young adults (18-29 years of age) have not completed basic education at least in part because of the poor learning environment in the camps.

UNRWA relies on voluntary donations that are subject to cyclical uncertainties, hindering planning and delivery of services. Chronic under-funding has resulted in understaffing, overcrowded classrooms and clinics, and generally decaying infrastructure.

Even if UNRWA were fully funded, it would not meet all the Palestinians' needs. It does not, for example, offer comprehensive medical care; so certain medical operations are only available outside the camps and are effectively beyond the reach of Palestinians.

Many refugees and their children do not have adequate housing within the camps and often must contend with poor access to clean water, sanitation and electricity.