Despite Displacement and Hardship, UNRWA's Nahr El Bared and Beddawi Staff Remain on Duty
Sana’a Abu Khurj, UNRWA’s Deputy Area Officer for North Lebanon sits in her office in Tripoli. There is a heart wrenching song playing in the background.
“This musician is from Nahr El Bared”, she says. “Since he left the camp, he has recorded songs about our fate and has circulated them in the Palestinian community.”
Sana’a Abu Khurj was one of over 300 UNRWA staff members residing in Nahr El Bared when fighting broke out between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al Islam on Sunday 20 May. When she and her family were able to flee the camp on the night of Tuesday, 22 May, they arrived at nearby Beddawi camp with tens of thousands of other Palestinians, yet again displaced due to violence.
“People are remembering the countless other times they have been forced to flee their homes”, says Abdel-al Abdel-al, UNRWA’s School Guidance and Counseling Supervisor for North Lebanon.
Indeed, the majority of those remaining in Nahr El Bared are the elderly who, as staff explained, do not wish a repeat of al-Nakba, (the 1948 exodus of Palestinians from their homeland), and young people who have remained behind to protect their family homes.
In coordination with other aid organizations, UNRWA initiated an emergency response when the crisis erupted in Nahr El Bared, deploying staff from the Lebanon Field Office in Beirut and other areas around Lebanon to provide aid and relief to the displaced.
Although displaced themselves, many of UNRWA’s Nahr El Bared staff joined in the relief efforts right from the beginning. UNRWA staff that were already living in Beddawi refugee camp have also selflessly opened up their homes to try to accommodate the large number of displaced, as have many other residents in the camp.
Nearly all UNRWA staff are Palestine refugees themselves and many modest shelters in Beddawi now have over 40 people living in them. All residents of Beddawi, whether permanent or displaced and UNRWA staff or not, are struggling as is the camp infrastructure and facilities.
Despite these hardships, UNRWA staff have been working around the clock, many initially for twenty hour days to provide food, hygiene kits, mattresses and the like to the displaced, including colleagues.
“I can’t sit with my family any more than I can sit in my office,” says Abu Khurj. “I need to be active, to assist – I rush to do my administrative work in Tripoli so I can go to Beddawi and assist with efforts on the ground.”
While we were in her office, Abu Khurj received a distressed phone call from an UNRWA teacher who was still inside Nahr El Bared. “He just saw a building collapse from the shelling. He said ten to twelve people are under the rubble, including children.” She told us. “We need to help these people.”
Says the UNRWA Lebanon Field Administration Officer, Pamela Bell: “I am so proud of our staff in the north. They have given so much in the past four weeks to help others while they themselves are also living in the same desperate conditions.”
Now all UNRWA staff members have reported back to duty. Those who fled to other areas of Lebanon are being assigned to stations within their current area of residence, while those in the north are assisting in Beddawi and Tripoli.
Contributed by Adona El-Murr, Administration Development Officer, UNRWA Lebanon