Refugee camps in Palestine. Can I visit them?
You might think that Palestinian refugees are only those who live outside Palestine, such as those who live in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria or Iraq etc., as a result of the war that occurred in 1984. This is not completely the true situation since there are refugees who also live in the West Bank and Gaza. There are around 22 camps in the West Bank with approximately 176,000 refugees and 12 camps in Gaza with about 478,000 refugees.
How can they be refugees in their own country?
The fact is that in 1948 when Israeli armed groups started to attack the Palestinian towns, villages and cities using different weapons, Palestinians evacuated to safer areas in order to save their lives. Most of them went either to the West Bank or to Gaza, as they were the safest locations at that time. They settled there temporally as it had been promised that they would return to their houses one day and they have been waiting ever since.
Why are they still living there?
Being a refugee is a sign that your home has been taken over by someone else and therefore these people preferred to stay in the camps to clearly demonstrate that they still want to get their houses and homes back and that they will not give up believing in this as long as they are alive.
How they live their life?
Living in a refugee camp is not easy, nor comfortable. Residents of camps are confronted with having to walk through tight alleys, poor Infrastructure and have no place for their children to play. In addition, these camps suffer from limited housing, poor and weak social services as well as fewer of camps that are now supervised by UNRWA. This has reduced from 25 to 19 camps and is a significant factor in the well being of the camp residents.
Can I visit these camps while I am in Palestine?
Of course you can and it is a great opportunity to get to know how people there cope with living in this situation for a long time. There you will hear many stories about how these people were compelled to flee to the camps because of fear and how they started to live there in conditions that are extremely difficult. It is preferable to visit these camps with someone who is living there or by an organization that arranges visits to these camps regularly.
The Excellence Center in the south of Palestine is as an example of an organization that arranges visits to some of the refugee camps in Hebron and Bethlehem such as the Al-Fawar camp and the Aida camp. Visits are organized for internationals who come either to learn Arabic or to teach English. The aims of the visits are for our visitors to get more information and a greater understanding about the people who live there. These visits are organized by the Center providing and English translator who also explains more about the history of these camps. In addition, you will get the chance to visit some families who are living within the camps and talk to them and ask questions. The families you visit will provide you with a fascinating opportunity to learn a little bit about life within the camps. For more information, please visit the center’s website at: www.excellencenter.org .