To date not much organized aid has been distributed. UNWRA is still in the process of making lists of the arriving refugees from Syria, reminding one of the time it took for that UN agency to access the needs of the Nahr al Bared displaced refugees in 2007. The UNCHR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, whose mandate does not include Palestinians, is also studying the problem.
But the need for aid is now and urgent. Meeting with individuals on 9/20/12 from the Palestinian camp committees and the local and international NGO community, three urgent needs were identified facing the refugees from Syria, whose numbers swell following each Palestinian killed in Syria. On 9/19/20, 18 more Palestinians were killed and so the numbers coming to Lebanon will swell over the next few days.
Among the three most urgent problems facing the arriving Palestinians from Syria are Social problems ranging from finding places to live, food, education and preventing youth from joining local Lebanese militia who offer $100 per day to Palestinian youth to work as hired guns. A few do fight on both sides of the Syrian conflict while their mothers and fathers are urging them to "stay off the streets."
UNWRA has the capacity to help with elementary and secondary schooling in its 52 schools in Lebanon. Hoda al Turki, the hard working spokesperson for UNWRA in Lebanon has been worried about the difference in curriculum in UNWRA schools in Lebanon and Syria schools where Palestinians are educated. UNWRA does not operate schools in Syria. But the afternoon of 9/20/12 a solution was announced and a curriculum has been agreed on. One of the problems was that Syrian schools teach the Nakba and Palestinian history but UNWRA schools are forbidden to teach anything about Palestine lest its funding be cut by the US government under pressure from the Zionist lobby.
So far the medical needs of the arriving refugees are being met at UNWRA facilities.
Some are proposing housing the refugees in schools, as was done following the Nahr al Bared fighting, but the schools are needed for classes.
One very important Lebanese governmental humanitarian gesture was announced today ( 9/20/12) and it is that Lebanese General Security, in charge of visa and immigration matters, has waived all fees for arriving and departing Palestinian refugees. Permission to remain, previously granted for only 7 days, will be granted indefinitely without Kafkaesque applications and interview processes. This is a major boon for the refugees since they have been ruthlessly exploited on both sides of Maznaa Lebanon-Syria border crossing, with demands for bribes and per head "transit fees" which quickly stripped many families of the limited cash they had.
One example: While trying to cross into Lebanon two weeks ago, Um Ahmad was confronted by a security guard who barked: "if there is no phone number in Lebanon you need to go back to where you came from in Syria". She replied to the security officer, "Sir, you should show us some mercy please. You know that we are running away from war, we are not here on a vacation." He replied coldly:" no phone number, no entry!" A request for a bribe was delivered.
The government of Lebanon deserves praise for its humanitarian action. Hopefully the Syrian government will follow suit and facilitate the departure and hopeful return of Palestinian refugees.
The main economic problem is that the arriving refugees, like all Palestinians in Lebanon will not be allowed to work.
The third problem is with security issues. Lebanon has announced that it cannot absorb more refugees. Yet the figure of 10,000 more expected Palestinians may easily double. For Palestinians who have been in Lebanon since 1948, many are reaching their limits of tolerance of the conditions they are forced to live in without elementary civil rights.
There is general agreement here that while "photo-op' one time NGO aid distributions help and are much appreciated, the way they tend to be unorganized so far is resulting in refugee families being herded like cattle from place to place to receive various forms of limited aid and they are being stripped of their dignity. Sometimes refugees are forced to sit in the sun until the TV crews arranged by the donors arrive to film this "act of charity in solidarity with the Palestinian people."
To its credit, Hezbollah has been helping some. The Syrian refugees whether Sunni, Christian or Druze have received some aid from a center near Saida. Hezbollah Social Work Committee member Alhaji Mohammed al-Haj said Hezbollah was assisting our "Syrian brothers as part of the duty to return the favor for what they did for us in the July war and out of a moral and national obligation of the resistance."
What is required without further delay is for an urgent stakeholders meeting to be convened. Including the PLO factions, local and international NGO's, Donors, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, UNRWA, EU and UN groups as well as local political parties in order quickly produce an executable plan avoiding duplications, to address these needs.
Shatila camp residents, on this 30th anniversary of one of their darkest hours, are planning to lead this call with a unified, strong, sustained Palestinian voice to help their sisters and brothers from Syria.