A Park Becomes a Refuge for the Displaced in Beirut
Nemer and Fatima Shaito and their five children have been living in the park for the past two days, along with some 200 other families -- about 1,400 people total -- who fled recent shelling in areas of southern Beirut.
Huddled on a few blankets, they told IRC emergency specialists today that they want nothing more than to go home in safety, even though they know that they have no home to return to.
Nearly three weeks ago, as the conflict between Lebanon and Israel escalated, the family moved to a garage beneath their apartment building in the village of Ay Alsalam. They lived there for 10 days, occasionally returning to their apartment to gather supplies.
But two days ago, shells careened into their building, severely damaging the structure. Fearful of more bombardments, Nemer and Fatima decided it was time to go. Carrying just a few essential items, the family made their way north to Garden Sanaey with hundreds of others who had suddenly been made homeless by the violence.
The park where they are now sheltering has few toilets for the masses of people suddenly living there. Drinking water, which is being trucked in by local authorities, is in short supply. All the families are sleeping outside, many of them on the ground. There have been periodic deliveries of food.
“Yesterday the police came to the park and took us to a school where many people are staying, because they thought it would be better shelter for us,” Nemer explained to the IRC’s emergency team leader, Alan Manski. “But it was very crowded there. The conditions were not good. My wife, Fatima, has asthma, and the conditions made her feel worse. So we came back to the park.”
Manski and the IRC emergency response team are laying the groundwork for critical water and sanitation assistance for thousands of displaced families like the Shaitos, who are living in open spaces, schools and cramped apartments in and around Beirut – environments that breed disease. Working with local partners, the IRC is also preparing to distribute emergency materials, including hygiene supplies.
Manski says the IRC is also extremely concerned about the welfare of displaced children.
“Today I met the Shaito’s beautiful children…Ali, Marrim, Amina, Norr and Diab,” says Manski. “There are so many kids here like them who were suddenly uprooted from their normal environment, and are now scared, confused and living in unfamiliar surroundings.”
Manksi says in the coming days, the IRC will be looking at ways to come to their assistance – providing educational, healing and learning activities for displaced children in the places where they have settled.