Activists Slam UNRWA over Unequipped Quarantine Room for Palestinian Refugees

Activists Slam UNRWA over Unequipped Quarantine Room for Palestinian Refugees

Only a handful of mattresses and pillows figure on a picture of a quarantine facility established by UNRWA for a coronavirus-stricken Palestinian refugee family. Photo credit: AGPS

A photo circulated on social media networks has sparked outrage after it revealed the unequipped quarantine room in which a coronavirus-stricken Palestinian family has been confined in AlJaleel refugee camp, in Lebanon’s Baalbek city.

Palestinian refugees and activists leveled heavy criticism at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) over the substandard quarantine facility in which the family members have been held.

Only a handful of mattresses and pillows figure on the circulated picture.

Activists said the facility is similar to a prison room and is unfit for extended home quarantines. They lashed out at UNRWA’s Director of Lebanon Operations, urging him to take immediate steps in order to transfer the family to Rafic Hariri Hospital or other equipped quarantine facilities.

A few days earlier, UNRWA said four residents of the Jalil (Wavel) Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing total cases in the area to five.

Authorities closed all entrances to AlJalil Palestinian camp in eastern Lebanon, heightening concerns the virus could further spread among its overcrowded population.

The four infected with the virus are relatives of a Palestinian woman from Syria who tested positive earlier last week and are quarantined inside their home, according to a statement from UNRWA.

The Palestinian woman who was taken to a hospital in Beirut last week became the first refugee living in a camp in Lebanon to contract the virus, a finding that triggered a spate of testing in the camp.

The woman is identified as Manal Shehabi, displaced from Syria’s Yarmouk displacement camp.

Lebanon, a tiny country of five million people, is host to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, most of them living in squalid camps with no access to public services, with limited employment opportunities and no rights to ownership.

Wavel refugee camp was originally a site of French Mandate-era army barracks situated 90 km east of Beirut in the Beqaa Valley near Baalbek. It provided shelter to Palestine refugees in 1948. In 1952, UNRWA assumed responsibility for providing services in the camp. Many refugees still live in the original army barracks, which lack daylight and adequate ventilation. Conditions are particularly harsh in winter.

The ongoing Syria crisis has also led to the additional presence of Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees from Syria in the camp.

Camp residents are only able to find seasonal work in agriculture and sometimes construction. Students often drop out of school in order to support their families. The camp’s water, sewerage and storm water drainage systems were rehabilitated between 2004 and 2005.  However access to potable water remains a persistent challenge, as elsewhere in Lebanon.

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