When Sameeh Yousef Abdallah’s father came to Syria from Palestine in 1948, he started a new life for himself, along with thousands of other refugees, in the barracks built by Allied forces during World War II in Neirab, on the outskirts of Aleppo.
“At the time it was a safe and decent place for us to stay, but as the years passed and families started to get bigger, the living conditions quickly deteriorated. Six decades later it was totally unsustainable,” says the factory worker, who inherited his father’s barrack and lived there with his family of 12 until they were given a new house by UNRWA.
Sameeh continued: “Now, things definitely look better and brighter for us. I enjoy the view of the camp from my rooftop and I am delighted to watch my grandchildren happily play on the staircase. This new house has improved our lives in a way we could have not dreamed of.”
“We Could Not Be Happier”
Tarek Mansour Hussein, a professional cook and father-of-three with one more on the way, has been living in rented barrack shelters since he was born, in the midst of overcrowded Neirab camp, in 1973. Home has been more than eight different places, all of them damp, with bad ventilation and lighting, cracked walls and shared, over-used utilities. All that changed this summer when his family was granted one of the new houses.
“For me and my family it means everything. It’s the beginning of a new life. Especially when it comes to my little sunshine, Leen,” he says, referring to his seven-year-old daughter, who suffers from autism and requires weekly treatment at the local specialist centre.
“Now, all the money we save from rental fees will go to improving Leen’s opportunities and living standards. We could not be happier.”
An Ongoing Challenge
Launched by UNRWA in 2002, the NRP is a comprehensive camp improvement project aiming to end decades of hardship for Neirab’s refugees. It started its second phase in September 2008 and still faces big challenges, such as finding ways to encourage community involvement and finding donors to fund the rest of the project.
In the latest phase, UNRWA involves the refugees in the design and construction of their new homes, supporting them as they take control of their own lives.
Project manager Volker Schimmel says: “We are very encouraged by the positive results we have had so far. None of this would have been possible without the kind funding from the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent and other donors. There are many more families that are hoping for our help and we are more committed than ever to provide it. This is just the beginning.”
Text by Diego Gómez Pickering and Deana Hilliss