The Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese city of Saida on May 19, 2013. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, condemned on Wednesday armed clashes in the refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon for endangering the lives of civilians.
Ain al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, has recently been the site of confrontations between the Lebanese army and gunmen.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness denounced the impact the violence has had on the population of Ain al-Hilweh, saying that fighting near four UNRWA schools in the camp was “putting at considerable risk the lives of students.”
Gunness added that an armed individual entered UNRWA schools earlier this week -- in contravention of the neutrality and inviolability of United Nations facilities -- and ordered students to leave.
While no injuries were reported during the incident, UNRWA said that the “increased risks to civilian lives” led the organization to close all of its facilities on Monday and Wednesday.
“As a humanitarian organization we are significantly concerned that armed violence and disturbances taking place in Ain al-Hilweh, where tens of thousands of Palestine refugees live, affects the security, safety and the enjoyment of rights of its residents including children’s rights to education,” Gunness said.
The UNRWA condemnation came weeks after the Lebanese military halted construction of a “security wall” around Ain al-Hilweh
, caving to mounting criticisms.
The largest and most crowded refugee camp in Lebanon, Ain al-Hilweh is home to some 54,116 registered refugees, the descendants of Palestinians who fled their villages during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, according to the UN.
However, the population significantly increased since 2011 as a result of the Syrian war, as Palestinians have been displaced a second time from refugee camps across Syria, with development nonprofit organization Anera estimating the camp's population to be closer to 120,000.
The Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp is characterized by high rates of poverty and poor housing conditions, which have been further stressed as the population of the camp has ballooned in recent years.
Palestinians in Lebanon have the highest percentage of their population living in abject poverty from among the other countries the organization serves, according to UNRWA.
Facing discriminatory employment policies, Palestinians in Lebanon are restricted from working in over 20 professions or claiming the same rights as other non-citizens in Lebanon, while all the refugee camps suffer from overcrowding, poor housing conditions, and a lack of infrastructure.