Shatila Refugee Camp (Lebanon)

A view over Shatila camp. (D. Sánchez)

A community leader by one of the water tanks. (I. Polochova/MSF)

Interior shot of a convenient store for the local community. (I. Polochova/MSF)
A narrow alley with dangerous electric cables hanging above. (I. Polochova/MSF)
Shatila's streets have little room to dispose garbage in a safe way. (I. Polochova/MSF)
A few of the locals use horses for transport. (I. Polochova/MSF)
An advert for low prices of goods. (I. Polochova/MSF)
Electrical wires, old signs, and political posters hang over the streets.  (I. Polochova/MSF)

Mothers and their children in the waiting room of a primary health clinic. (I. Polochova/MSF)

A resident hanging her laundry on her apartment building's roof. (I. Polochova/MSF)


The Shatila refugee camp was set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1949 (officialised in 1954) as a temporary space for the hundreds of Palestinian refugees who fled from the north of historic Palestine during the period known as the “nakba” in 1947-1948.  The people remained there ever since, generation after generation. Shatila has transformed from a collection of temporary tents to a poor, run-down neighbourhood, located today just four kilometres from the Beirut downtown area.

One of the most tragic episodes for the camp occurred during the Lebanese civil war in September 1982, the now infamous Sabra-Shatila massacre, which lasted several days and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3000 people.

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, a large number of Syrian refugees and Palestinian-Syrians have arrived to Shatila. Moreover, the camp also became a home for poor, vulnerable Lebanese and other nationalities.

Prior to the influx of refugees to the camp, the population was estimated between 7,000 to 15,000 people. Now the estimates are around 30,000 people. Around a quarter of the population are Palestinians, more than half are Syrians, while the rest are Lebanese and various other nationalities. All of them are cramped within a half square kilometre.

Shatila was and continues to be considered one of the most densely populated spaces in the world.

Living conditions are extremely bad, with poor water & sanitation, regular power cuts, and very limited access to the few services that are provided locally by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and various NGOs.

MSF began work in Shatila in September 2013. The international humanitarian and medical organization currently offers free of charge medical services in Shatila via a primary health care clinic and a women’s health centre to address the needs of vulnerable populations in the south of Beirut. The majority of patients are Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees from Syria.

A total of 6,000 to 8,000 consultations per month are managed by MSF staff, with the majority related to paediatric patients, followed by non-communicable diseases (hypertension, diabetes, etc.), while the women’s health center (WHC) does around 280 deliveries per month.


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Shatila Camp 33.864454, 35.499482

GPS coordinates: 33° 51′ 46.26″ N, 35° 29′ 54.17″ E

Where refugees come from: The Palestinian refugees come from the northern parts of historical Palestine. The Syrian-Palestinians are mainly from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, while most of the Syrians now living in Shatila come from the major cities in Syria that were devastated during the early years of the crisis.

Other nearest refugee camps: The Mar Elias refugee camp, another refugee camp turned into a neighbourhood, is around 2.6 kilometres north west of Shatila, while the Bourj al-Barajneh camp is 4.3 kilometres south east.

What do people say about Shatila Camp

A 16 year old Syrian mother

The family and I used to regularly visit Lebanon before the war to spend some time as tourists. However, when we once again traveled here, we could not return back to our home in Syrian governorate of Idlib. When the crisis in Syria began, Idlib, like many other regions, was not a safe place for us. We were forced to stay in Lebanon. That was five years ago and since that day, we have been unable to return home... more

Umm Tarek
30 year old mother of five children

I am 30 years old. I am married with five children. I am from a small village in northern Syria. I came to Lebanon four months ago. We left our home because of the heavy shelling and airstrikes. We slept outside for four days with the children. We suffered from hunger, thirst, cold, and shelling. Then we all decided to leave to Lebanon. more

Mahmoud Darwish Sallam
MSF social worker in Shatila

I started working with MSF four months ago as a social worker, networking and interacting with the community in terms of all the services for the patients. I also do field networking with the NGOs, and we deal with Syrian, Palestinian, and even Iraqi refugees – or anyone else for that matter. more

Foued Gamoud
MSF Field Coordinator, Shatila

Life in the Palestinian camp of Shatila is very difficult. It is not a closed camp; people can move in and out freely. But Palestinians are not allowed to own anything in Lebanon, nor to have a business outside of the camps, and they have limited access to work in the Lebanese public and private sectors. They also have little to no access to the Lebanese public healthcare system. Palestinians in Lebanon are not granted basic civil rights, so they stay in this neighbourhood because it’s more affordable for them to live here and because they would prefer to live among other Palestinians to feel that they are part of a community. more

Ali Othman
49 years old, a camp leader

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. more

Arraf Khalil
Camp resident

I came from the outskirts of Aleppo. I have five children; three boys and two girls. We’ve been living in Shatila for around two and a half years to escape the insecurity. There was the Syrian army, then the Free Syrian Army, then ISIS, and then the Free Syrian Army again. It was never calm. more

Chirine Khodor
Camp resident

My name is Chirine Khodor. The past years have not been easy. If I had to describe my time since leaving Syria, I would say that I have one good day for every bad month. I try my best to share these good days with my family. When we can, we go to the public beach or for a picnic. more

Rateb Khodor
Camp resident

My name is Rateb Khodor, I’m a refugee from the Rif Dimashq region of Syria and I live in Shatila camp, Beirut, with my wife and three children. We’ve lived here for three years. more


Facilities in Shatila Camp

Food & Drink




Sanitary Facilities

Sanitary Facilities


Social Activities

Reasons why people choose Shatila Camp

   No choice



Number of people living in this camp: ~ 30,000

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