The Refugees of Balata Refugee Camp West Bank

                        The Refugees of Balata Refugee Camp West Bank

The Balata Refugee Camp was created as a result of the Palestinian 'nakba' or catastrophe of 1948 when Palestinians were forced to leave their homes by the Zionist militias. The existence of Balata Camp is a painful reminder that the Palestinian catastrophe - the heart of which is the refugee issue - continues to this day.

There are now over 5.6 mi

llion Palestinian refugees dispersed throughout the world. [1] There are 62 Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon Jordan and Syria. 19 of these camps are located in the West Bank.

Although conditions in the camps vary, many people are still forced to live in conditions of extreme hardship, facing problems with overcrowded housing conditions, limited educational opportunities, poor health and mass unemployment.

As far as housing is concerned, there are numerous difficulties. The major obstacle in the way of sufficient housing is space. Balata refugee camp was established between 1950 and 1952 on a land mass of 1 km. It was initially designed to house 5000 to 6000 people today this same area of 1 km has population combined with limited space has restricted the average living space per person in comparison with Israeli towns. The average living space for refugees living in camps in the west bank is 10.6 m2 for each person. This is in comparison to the 1300 m2 per person in the Israeli town of Afula. Another problem confronting refugees is that many of the buildings have poor structures, they are built upon weak foundations and additional floors have been added year upon year to cope with the population increase.

The quality of education in the camps is also difficult to maintain due to the over-crowded conditions and limited opportunities and resources. The lack of teachers and space has lead to schools being forced to run two shifts – morning and afternoon. In Balata for example, five different schools operate on a shifts basis out of three different school buildings which serve 4500 students. Class sizes average 50-55 students. The level of illiteracy has increased from 22% in 1988 to 27% 1997.

Health conditions have also worsened due to the difficult social and economic situation. In Balata there is one UNRWA operated health clinic that serves all the residents of the camp. There are 170-200 refugees for each medical doctor. UNRWA services have been declining over the years and the international funding it receives has been insufficient to deal with the worsening conditions in the camps.

Unemployment difficulties are widespread with the level of unemployment estimated at 70%. Many people used to work in Israel on a seasonal basis and many people have had to work illegally with the constant threat of arrests and fines. Most of those employed as workers in Israel have lost their jobs as a result of prolonged curfew, closure and permit restrictions since the second Intifada.

The daily occurrence of military violence in the camp affects the safety and well -being of all its inhabitants.

The continued military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has also lead to high levels of human rights abuses. Thousands of Palestinians, including children, have been arrested, detained and injured. Palestinian human rights organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have documented these human rights abuses, especially since the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000. In Balata alone 227 people have been killed, over 600 detained and over 1500 injured since the beginning of the Intifada.

However, in spite of these challenges, many organization in the camp continue to facilitate activities and provide services to improve life in the camps as well as raise awareness about the right of refugees to return to their homeland – a right that is protected and guaranteed under international law and various UN resolutions.

The following is a brief list of such organization:

1- The Committee for the Defence of Palestinian Refugee Rights.
2-The Popular Committee for the Services of Balata Camp-PLO.
3-Balata Women Activities Center.
4-The Local Committee for Rehabilitation of the Disabled.
5-Bisan Youth Society.
6-Happy Childhood Club.
7- Charity Societies (Yazour, Nahr Al-a'oja, Al-Jmaseen, Kofor Saba, Al-A'basiyah).

[1]The numbers of UNRWA registered & non-registered refugees in the West Bank is 652 855; the Gaza Strip 766 124; Lebanon 408 008; Jordan 1 741 796. Salman Abu-Sitta The Palestinian Nakba, 1948 (London: The Palestinian Return Center, 1998).

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