Gaza Refugees Compound is situated in the Lebanese capital Beirut. It emerged following the Zionist massacre of Sabra and Shatilla in 1982. The seven floor building had been used as a Palestinian Red Cross hospital and served as a refuge for the traumatized Palestinian families fleeing Zionist air and land strikes against Palestinian camps. The hospital continued to offer its services until 1985.

As a result of the continuous strikes, the four top floors were completely destroyed. The three remaining ones incurred serious damage, and are still riddled with cracks, holes and humidity. The building continues in this state and serves as a home for 338 families, that is around 2028 Palestinian refugees, all living in its dilapidated rooms.

The building is on the verge of collapse, due to the vast quantity of water that has penetrated into its foundations. There used to be seven rooms on every floor, which had been divided into tiny rooms, of no more than 25 square metres. Those rooms became home to whole families, a tiny narrow room per family.

No services are provided by UNRWA or by the government, since the place is not registered in either of their records. The residents have to fend for themselves, without any outside help. Refuse piles up at the foot of the building attracting rodents and insects. This remains an acute problem even with the help of the Popular Committee, especially with sewers being inside the building itself.

To the residents, night is like day… Wax from burnt- out candles is scattered everywhere. The division of rooms from the inside has compounded the problem generating high levels of humidity. In the absence of lighting, humidity has become unbearable and has caused numerous contagious and deadly diseases… In addition, the use of candles for lighting places the building in serious and constant danger of fire.

There is no drinking water in the camp. This is the cause of much chaos, since the residents have to resort to transporting water from the neighbourhood going up and down narrow dark stairs... This inevitably results in accidents, injuries and even deaths, as the residents struggle to climb up and down the staircases carrying the water filled containers…

Statistics indicate that 40 percent of residents suffer from chest infections; that is, around 535 individuals out of 2028 people. 49 percent of these are children, that is, 240 out of 535 children. Muhammad has been staying in “Bahans” Hospital for respiratory diseases for over a month. He is 21 years old, married with two children. He lives in the Gaza hospital and was transferred to hospital after contracting tuberculosis. His brother and mother suffer from asthma. Muhammad serves as a precursor of what could become an epidemic if conditions inside the building do not improve. The building is in fact not suited for habitation, but the residents have no choice but to remain there to escape homelessness, since they cannot return to their homes in the Western district of Sabra and Shatilla camp. Those who came from Tal az-Za’tar and Nabatiyya camps have nowhere to go to since both camps had in the seventies been reduced to ruins.

Hajj Abu Muhammad as-Sammak from Yaffa in Palestine lives with the other 11 members of his family in the entrance to the building in a thoroughly unacceptable inhumane manner. He refuses to talk to anyone and continuously repeats “We have no one but God” Hajj Abu Riyad A. ar-Rahim from ‘Anqa Village in Palestine is a disabled man who lives along with 13 members of his family in a single room, used as a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom… Abu Muhammad says: “There is nothing but “Panadol” in the surgery, used to “treat” all ailments. We have thus had to resort to traditional methods to try to cure the widespread asthma. In addition to respiratory diseases, the residents suffer from other sorts of illnesses. Humidity has affected many residents’ hearing, who needed treatment and operations as a result. Over 80 percent suffer from nephritis (kidney infections) as a result of polluted water consumption. There is also a hospice run by some international organization, which charges 7 dollars for every medical examination. “We cannot pay this sum, since we are unemployed”. In fact only 10 percent of all residents are employed.

Muhammad al-‘Isa A. Samir, an official of the popular committee in Western Beirut, which supervises the running of the compound says: “We spray disinfectants, collect the garbage and try to ensure some supply of drinking water… But we cannot meet all the needs of the residents… We are sponsored by the Norwegian government, UNICEF and the European Union, but our needs are great, pressing and urgent. What happened to Muhammad that young man of 21 is a product of this catastrophic situation… it will inevitably reoccur if nothing is done”. He adds: “What the residents are longing for is to break away from this misery and to live like other human beings”. He calls on UNRWA to “meet its responsibilities towards these refugees until they return to their homes, to resolve their problems just as it had done in the case of those refugees who had escaped to Beirut hotels during the war”. Let the international community look at the terrible tragedy daily lived by the Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora in general, and in camps in particular.

How long is this state of indifference to go on, when refugees are dying in the absence of decent living conditions and adequate medical care?

Source: Ali Huwaidi