Palestinian refugees are persons previously residing in Palestine but whose residency was disrupted as a result of the conflict in 1948. Nearly a third of the registered Palestinian refugees live in recognized refugee camps. This number is approximately 1.5 million people.
They are spread across Jordan, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, The Syrian Arab Republic, and the West Bank.
Where do the Refugees Live?
The refugee camps are plots of land designated by host governments for the accommodation of refugees. They are usually at the disposal of United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency and partner agencies responsible for catering to the needs of the refugees. Areas not designated are not recognized as camps.
The lands on which the camps stand do not belong to the refugees. In most cases, it’s state-owned or leased from local landowners. The refugees have a right to use the land for residence but cannot lay claim on it.
Some of the facilities UNRWA maintains are health centers, schools, and distribution centers in areas surrounding the designated camps.
The other two-thirds of refugees, about 3 million people, live in towns and cities within the host countries. They also occupy the environs of official camps. All services by UNRWA are accessible by all refugees regardless of where they live.
Health Living Conditions
In most Palestinian camps, provision of water, housing, and other essential amenities are usually inadequate. This contributes to poor health and sanitary conditions. An assessment of physical and mental health conditions showed that approximately 31% of individuals in the camps had chronic illnesses. 24% of the population suffers from acute diseases.
The study also showed that refugees living in deplorable conditions are almost two times likely to have a member with a disability in the family. Impoverished families are also more likely to have a chronically sick member.
In other words, the conditions are cyclical. This means that conditions of poverty are likely to cause ill health and consequently create a financial burden on families. Households with more than one chronic illness to deal will spend more on healthcare expenses.
Maternal and Pediatric Health
A team of community midwives has come together to provide unique services to the communities. They provide checkups and healthcare advice to pregnant women and new mothers. In so doing, there is improved health through increased breastfeeding, better nutrition, and specialist care.
The success rate of these teams demonstrates that the conditions can improve if there’s intervention by the international health community. There’s a need for increased research on health and healthcare requirements of the Palestinian refugees. Advocacy for more intense international action is crucial the realization of the rights of the refugees to dignity and health.
Physical Living Conditions
A report in the Journal of Palestine Studies indicates that studies covering all aspects of the living conditions are yet to be done. The two primary sources of information are UNRWA statistics and the Lebanese Ministry of Planning.
Housing and Sanitation
The camps in Lebanon were set up on small uncultivated land and abandoned military sites. Their set up in the 1950s was primitive, but improvements have been made in the years that followed to make the environment habitable. For example, the bare earth was covered with cement and tents were issued to replace the shacks.
Eventually, the tents were replaced by brick-built houses. Modernization of the houses followed with the public latrines that served all being replaced by private installations. According to the Lebanese Survey of 1971, approximately 80% of the occupants of the camps possess private toilets, while some have to share among themselves.
Much of the terrain where the camps are located is harsh, and access to water resources is tough. Initially, water would be supplied by United Nations tankers. However, in the current day, most camps have reliable water distribution networks.
One challenge that the camps face is the construction of above-ground sewage systems that attract mosquitos and increase the risk of acquiring malaria. Flooding also becomes a significant problem during winter.
While the camps hardly increase in space, the population has doubled over the last twenty-five years. This has led to high population density and overcrowding. Resources are scarce in some of the camps because essential amenities intended for use by a certain number of people become overstretched.
For example, the Al Karameh camp was set up to accommodate 5,000 Palestinian refugees. Unfortunately, today the camp is home to about 17,000 inhabitants. The low standards of living and lack of adequate amenities mean that only a few refugees manage to leave the shelters.
Some of the consequences overcrowding in the camps are the transmission of epidemic diseases. These include cholera, typhoid, and acute respiratory infections. Outbreaks of these diseases are more severe and frequent where population density is high.
In emergencies, it’s unavoidable for hospital-associated infections will rise.
In addition to the Palestinian refugees, the camps are also occupied by approximately 11,500 Lebanese nationals. Most of them are unable to afford housing, and they find their way into the camps for shelter.
The social organization in the Palestinian camps is not a chance collection of families or individuals. From a social point of view, they are unlike the slum areas of the host countries and closely resemble village types. An analysis of their groupings shows that they occupy the camps in small villages depending on where their village of origin.
The basis of social life is the extended family, which are socially active and coherent units. The units jealously guard their social consciousness and village ties. If they were to be resettled, these ties would be of great importance in helping them re-construct their Palestinian lives.
However, social conflict is not absent on family and community levels. Disputes carried over from Palestine sometimes surface in the communities mainly over water supplies and housing. All in all, there is a shared sense of being a refugee community; hence solidarity is exercised in overcoming daily challenges.
Living conditions in the Palestinian camps are still wanting. Basic supplies are in shortage, and housing standards are below par. Social life for the inhabitants is inhibited, with the younger generation having no access to training opportunities for the courses considered prestigious.
Health and sanitation conditions could do better with intervention from international aid communities. Child and maternal health status in the camps have not received the attention it deserves. While there’s help coming from UNRWA, a lot still needs to be done to make the shelters more habitable, and to empower the refugees.