I spent a number days over the last week out in Palestinian camps and gatherings (areas outside of the formal camps where Palestinians have lived since 1948). When I lived here a few years ago I worked with UNRWA, the agency responsible for providing services to refugees from Palestine, and I was focussed on the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared camp (and Beddawi camp to a lesser extent) in the north. Those two camps were my reference point for what refugee 'camps' in Lebanon were like, so I was very interested to visit some of the others to compare.
Last Saturday I went to a camp that was only about 30 minutes from our office. While there is a clear entry (actually 11 entry points) to the camp, it wasn't immediately obvious that we were anywhere 'different'. After spending some time talking to one of our partner NGOs we were taken for a walk through the camp to meet people who had recently arrived from Syria. The camp has a population of between 17-20,000 living in an area about 1km square. As we wound deeper and deeper into the camp, the lane ways became more and more narrow, and the electricity and water connections were just crazy.
We went to another camp in the south of Lebanon, where we met a number of Syrian families who aren't receiving any support. Syrians can register with UNHCR, but the closest office is 30km away, and many families cannot afford the transportation costs to get there. This camp also has a big population, but the small part of it we saw was definitely less claustrophobic.
The next assessment day was focussed on the unofficial gatherings outside of the camps, and there was such a difference in the conditions - one gathering was actually very nice, and there was obviously wealth in the people who'd lived there for a long time. The last one we went to was pretty awful.
I didn't get to speak to as many families as we'd hoped, but their stories were compelling and heart wrenching, and it's very clear that there are thousands of people in Lebanon that are in need assistance, and many of them are slipping through the gaps. It's going to be a long time before it is safe enough for them to return to Syria to start rebuilding their lives.