The Ein El Hilweh Palestine refugee camp (EHC), located 3 km south-east of Saida, was first settled in 1948 by refugees from northern Palestine.
The camp received many Palestine refugees from other camps during Lebanon’s civil war, becoming the country’s largest camp in terms of both area and population; an estimated 80,000 people reside in and around the camp, in an area of 1.5 square km. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) began operations in the camp in 1952. The Agency does not manage or administer the camp, but does provide many essential services within.
An estimated 6,000 Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS) have settled in the camp since the start of the conflict, joining Palestine refugees in Lebanon (PRL) who already face high levels of multigenerational poverty and vulnerability. Camp residents – both PRS and PRL – suffer from high rates of poverty and unemployment and remain heavily dependent on UNRWA and NGO services for housing, health care, and education. They have few independent sources of income, partly due to legal restrictions on work and property ownership.
The influx of high numbers of PRS into an overcrowded urban space has put a further strain on already overstretched and inadequate infrastructure and services in the camp. It has also increased competition over scarce resources, jobs, and assistance, increasing the risk of community tension. PRS are particularly vulnerable given their higher levels of poverty and unemployment than PRL, and fewer community and family support systems to rely upon.
SECURITY & ACCESS
Security is a major concern in EHC. The camp is a microcosm of the Palestinian political universe, with virtually all Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Syria-aligned (“Tahaluf”), extremist, and Islamist factions represented and in constant competition for influence and power. This situation has produced a tense and confrontational environment characterized by lawlessness and frequent break-downs into brief episodes of armed violence. The frequent violence in the camp – perpetrated by a small number individuals, including non-Palestinians – severely threatens the safety and security of its inhabitants and impedes their ability to access a range of desperately-needed UNRWA services; it prevents children from going to school and patients from accessing vital health and other services.
In July-August 2015, fighting between the PLO faction Fatah and the extremist group Jund al-Sham reportedly left 6 dead, over 70 injured, and 3,000 displaced.
Unrest beginning in December 2016 forced UNRWA to close different installations in the camp on at least 18 occasions. In February 2017, a severe conflict erupted in the camp between PLO factions and Islamist groups following the temporary dissolution of the camp’s Joint Security Force, an inter-factional force with the aim of preventing clashes between rival factions and containing extremists. The clashes caused 1 death and 10 injuries. Additional clashes in March killed two in renewed fighting between Fatah and Jund al-Sham.
Sustained clashes between Fatah and followers of Bilal Badr in April left 9 dead and 95 injured, and again in August left 7 dead and 64 wounded. The continued instability of the Joint Security Force, along with ongoing difficulties in patrolling certain neighborhoods, is a major obstacle to sustaining peace in the camp.
Continued sporadic clashes have caused extensive damage and interrupted critical UNRWA services. These disruptions have particularly severe consequences given camp residents’ dependence on UNRWA and NGO services.
Insecurity in EHC also impacts residents’ freedom of movement. While residents are generally able to leave and enter the camp, movement is often restricted during the frequent periods of heightened security measures, limiting access to employment and essential services.
Security restrictions have also been reported on the entry of building materials to the camp, inhibiting shelter improvements and infrastructure rehabilitation.
In addition, the conflict in Syria has heightened tensions in EHC, with numerous factions resolutely opposed to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah’s involvement in the conflict.
While most of these factions existed in the camp before 2011, the conflict has likely strengthened and emboldened certain more extreme groups, including Jund al-Sham.
The Lebanese army maintains a security zone around the camp and controls its four main entrances, but has no presence within – as is the case in all the Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon except Nahr el-Bared (which has had its own security setup since the 2007 crisis). Security inside EHC is maintained by an inter-factional security committee, by Palestinian factions themselves, and by a Fatah-led Joint Security Force composed of most of the camp’s factions.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.