By Blue Chevigny
NEW YORK, 1 June 2007 - As problems persist for Palestinian refugees in the north of Lebanon - displaced as a result of armed conflict in the El Bared camp near Tripoli - UNICEF continues to respond to the crisis in close coordination with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and other partners.
The agencies are working to meet the urgent needs of refugee children and their families facing conflict and lack of services. UNRWA estimates that approximately 21,000 refugees have fled El Bared.
Most of the refugees have gone to the nearby Baddawi camp, where five schools have been transformed into shelters and host families are taking in refugees in their already crowded homes. Other refugees have left northern Lebanon altogether, moving to other parts of the country.
Some signs of progress
UNICEF and its partners are involved in providing water and sanitation, health and hygiene, and medical assistance to the affected population. UNICEF Communication Specialist Nicole Ireland reports that the organization is taking a lead role on education and child protection in the camps, where the situation is taking a particular toll on women and children.
"They've been living in very abnormal conditions," Ms. Ireland says of the refugee children. "Children are missing school, their families are displaced."
But a week after the children and families moved into Baddawi, there were some signs of progress. "They're using a playground with slides and swings, and also having structured play," Ms. Ireland reports. "When I was there yesterday, kids were getting their faces painted, kids were drawing, kids were organizing games of football.
"And really importantly," she continued, "I saw a lot of smiling faces. It's incredible to see how resilient these kids are if you just give them a little normalcy."
Physical and emotional well-being
UNICEF is also working to ensure the psychosocial well-being of children in the Baddawi camp by coordinating activities at a youth recreation centre there.
For some children, getting back to school soon is critical. "About 1,000 youths from age 15 to 17 have qualifying exams coming up that are important for their higher education," said Ms. Ireland. "For them, UNICEF is organizing buses to UNRWA schools in Tripoli and its surrounds, where the young people will be able to prepare and then write for their exams."
For younger students, UNICEF is distributing School-in-a-Box kits to create classroom environments on the move so that school can get back on track wherever the children are.
To Ms. Ireland, one of the most striking things about visiting the camp was that the refugee families need to begin their lives all over again. "People literally fled their homes with nothing, with the clothes on their back, so they are really starting from scratch," she says. "UNICEF is working to make children a priority, to make families a priority. And we want them to be healthy, both physically and emotionally."