BEDDAWI REFUGEE CAMP, Lebanon, (AP) -In this lice-infested Palestinian refugee camp where showers are a luxury, some 250 men and boys raced to get in line for a haircut recently.
Beddawi already was cramped before refugees from the nearby Nahr el-Bared camp began packing into schools and mosques and moving in with relatives here.
About 25,000 people have fled nine days of fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah Islam militants holed up in Nahr el-Bared.
Most have fled to Beddawi, compounding the misery of the 18,000 refugees previously here.
Halimeh Salim al-Najjar was one of the 39 people sharing a classroom where desks had been piled up to serve as shelves.
“Our life is miserable here although it’s better than Nahr el-Bared,” he said. “The shelling was terrifying. We have lived through several wars but this was the worst.”
The violence that began on May 20 has killed 20 civilians, 30 Lebanese soldiers and up to 60 militants.
Mariam Hamed, who is sharing another classroom with her three sisters and other families, said she hasn’t showered or changed her clothes in five days.
“We the poor have no one to help us but God,” she said, bursting into tears.
With conditions deteriorating and no end in sight to the standoff, relief organizations have scrambled to provide relief, fearing the camp could become an easy target for disease.
The Beirut-based Islamic Charitable Reform and Guidance Association rounded up barbers on Sunday to cut hair to keep lice from spreading, and placed showers and battery-operated lamps in classrooms that have been converted into apartments.
The U.N. agency that oversees Palestinian refugees has distributed about 4,000 mattresses, 3,500 pillows, 3,500 blankets and 1,040 hygiene kits, most of them to people in Beddawi.
“No camp can tolerate” such a sudden influx, Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner-general for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, said Sunday after touring Beddawi. “We need to make sure everyone has a place to stay, a shelter, has food, has water.”
About 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, including those who left after Israel’s creation in 1948 and their descendants. About half live in poverty in 12 refugee camps that are like small towns, with two- or three-story buildings on narrow streets alongside mosques, schools and businesses.
Othman Badr, a former Nahr el-Bared resident, says he is one of the lucky ones. His brother lives in Beddawi and he, his wife and their seven children — along with another family — were able to move into his brother’s apartment instead of staying in a classroom or mosque.
Badr said he has to stand in line to use the bathroom and can shower only once every three days. But he acknowledges his situation could be a lot worse.
“If you compare us to others displaced, we are living in a five-star hotel,” he said. “There are more catastrophic cases here.”