This is Sami Amr’s second trip to the local rubbish tip in one day. The thirteen year old works as a glass collector. That is, he picks up broken glass from tips and sells them on to make money.
Having left school at the age of eleven, his future, just like the future of thousands of other children in the same country, looks bleak. This country is Lebanon. These are the children of the Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon has witnessed a major surge of patriotism in the last year, particularly on the recent anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination. With independence and economic strength on top of everyone's agenda, one must question whether success can be possible with the ongoing and worsening situation in the refugee camps. The situation that Amnesty International has called a ‘Legacy of Shame’ and the late Rafik Hariri called ‘unjust.’
With the pressure on Lebanon to implement the UN resolution of 1559, the focus has turned on the Palestinian militias to disarm. However, in reality most believe that the real danger also lies in the dreadful conditions that they live in. This is what could aide in agitating the conditions for extremism.
The representation of the refugees is often cosmetically coated with the image of militants, Syrian supporters, or simply unfortunate victims. But none of these images interest young Sami. He explains the reasons why he needs to take this menial job. 'I want to help my seven year old sister, Hala, become a doctor when she is older, it's all our family's dream that she will be able to work as a doctor in this camp.'
Sami lives in ‘Ein El-Helwa,’ the largest refugee camp in Lebanon which holds over 45,000 people, nearly half of them under the age of fifteen. There are approximately 12 camps altogether in the country, with a total amount of 400,000 refugees; a substantial amount in a country where the total population is approximately 3,826,000. While they wait to return to their homeland, the camps they live in struggle to fulfill their basic human needs. Waiting to return for nearly sixty years, the fourth generation are now being told to continue in this futile lingering.
The state of Lebanon will not accept them as permanent settlers, and they themselves do not want to be seen as Lebanese. But while we wait for a recognized Palestinian state and some solutions to the Israeli problem, some Lebanese laws need amending, now more than ever. In order to make Lebanon an icon of individual rights and justice, the widening gap of living standards must be addressed.
There are many examples of Palestinians who, by obtaining other nationalities have been able to contribute greatly to the Lebanese state, the great journalist Samir Kassir for example. But the Lebanese state and much of its population continue to forget the majority; or ignore them. But many fear that these young, frustrated Palestinian people may be the power that distresses Lebanon’s already delicate sectarian balance.
Sami Amr considers himself lucky. According to the ‘Popular Committee,’ a group that strives to represent the different political factions in Ein El Helwa, 80% of their population is unemployed.
All Lebanese share the dream of uniting and building their country now more than ever. But is this achievable in a country where approximately 10% who live in it remain without the right to own or inherit their property, receive social security or enter into most professions? Lebanese want to achieve economic, social and cultural prosperity, but parts of the country are deprived from basic human rights.
Sami skips over the sewage pipe in the street and enters his house. He has brought home a special treat of faruj (rotisserie chicken) for his mother, brother and three sisters.
Without a homeland, will Sami’s and his friend’s generation at least have an opportunity of a successful life of freedom and security? For their good and the good of Lebanon, I hope they will.