There are around 30 thousand people living in an area of about half square kilometres. Because Shatila cannot expand horizontally it grows vertically. A few years ago, the population density in Shatila was smaller but after Syrian crisis began many Syrian refugees moved into the camp. There are also vulnerable Lebanese living here.
This place was not meant for such a large density of people and infrastructure is very old and not maintained. When you look at Shatila you will sometimes see that some of the alleyways are practically tunnels. People cannot breathe properly as there is no air and this causes respiratory illnesses. Water in the taps is mostly salty and it causes dermatological diseases. We are bringing water from outside but the water tanks are not properly maintained.
We do not even have space to bury our dead anymore. We are opening existing tombs and we put the newly deceased on top of those who passed before.
We have health issues because we do not have a proper hospital in the camp. I was born in Lebanon but I have never had access to any public hospital. There is one formal clinic in the whole camp and there is one doctor and one gynaecologist in it (apart from that there is also Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) primary health care clinic and maternity clinic). I am grateful to MSF for being in the camp; their presence mitigates the suffering of people here.
Many young Palestinians are working with MSF in Shatila and in Burj el-Barajneh camp. It is important for us because we are facing huge unemployment among young adults. In Lebanon, there are regulations which limit companies from hiring Palestinians or Syrians. Even educated people like doctors or engineers cannot find work. There are no more flats or rooms in ground floors in Shatila – they were all turned to all kind of shops as people are trying to earn a living.
This camp was destroyed and rebuilt many times. Now we have small houses with flats. They have one to three rooms and families are having from five to ten children. All of them are living in these tiny flats as they do not have other choice, they cannot rent place outside of the camp — it is too expensive for them. Only a few Palestinians who have work can rent something outside refugee camps, while the majority of our people are living in the camps in Lebanon. This is discouraging young people from getting married and building a life.
But we hope our future will be better and we work on it. We believe that education could change our future. We work with our children and we are trying to make sure they get educated and maybe they will have better opportunity to work. Yet again the problem remains: There is a school in Shatila, which has 700 students. The school has therefore two shifts – there are classes in the morning and in the afternoon. There are about forty children in the class. The school covers education till the end of high school. After that students can go to university only in case their parents have enough money to pay for it.
We have also community center where we organize social activities for our children. We teach them craftworks, we rent a playground outside of the camp, we take kids for the trips, and we try to do interaction with different Lebanese associations. Our kids love swimming in the sea and they like to play football. There are also other personal initiatives in Shatila, such as music band who play national and patriotic songs and there is museum of Palestinian heritage, photo exhibitions, and other people organize a range of activities for the children. (July 2016)