Lebanon

New violence in Lebanon calls for special safeguards for children

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Beirut, Lebanon (May 25, 2007) - Save the Children is working to address the needs of children and families impacted by recent violence in the densely populated refugee camp, Nahr al-Bared, near Tripoli in Lebanon.

At least 12 civilians have been killed and 120 injured, including 22 children, in clashes between the Lebanese army and the armed faction Fatah al-Islam, according to Save the Children's partners working at the refugee camp. Since the crisis is still evolving, these estimates are likely to rise. Approximately 30,000 people currently live in the camp.

Save the Children staff report that men, women and children have been trapped by the fighting and that food, water, medical supplies and electricity are running low. Almost half of those trapped in the camp are children, who are extremely vulnerable in times of armed conflict.

The fighting is the most serious of its kind in the camp since the end of the civil war in 1990. There is concern that if the random shelling of civilians does not stop immediately, it will 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, should they so desire.

- 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. The infant and maternal mortality rates are higher than in other camps in the Middle East and prospects for receiving a basic education less likely.

In Lebanon, most Palestinians in refugee camps cannot legally work, trapping at least 60 percent of them in poverty. For those Palestinian refugees who have the required work permits to accept the jobs available to them, they cannot receive social security benefits even though they must pay for them.

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.

There are strict restrictions on building in some camps. Successive Lebanese governments have banned the reconstruction of Palestinian refugee camps destroyed during the Lebanese civil war and prohibited building new houses outside camps. These restrictions deprive Palestinian refugees and their children of adequate housing and contribute to the deterioration of their living conditions. Infrastructure for water, sanitation and electricity is similarly poor and crumbling.