Weekly's SARAH STEPHEN spoke to OLFAT MAHMOUD, executive director of
the Women's Humanitarian Organisation, when she visited Australia in November.
WHO provides humanitarian assistance to some 350,000 Palestinian refugees
All refugees outside Palestine are stateless, but those in Lebanon
are in a particularly bad situation: they have no right to work or access
to public services, despite paying GST on everything they buy, Mahmoud
A few work, but because it is illegal, it is usually irregular or seasonal
work and does not provide a reliable income. Can you imagine if you had
to live without the government providing you with any services? What would
happen to you? Without the right to work, you have no money to buy food,
to go to hospital, she said.
Mahmoud described the Borj El Barajneh camp, near Beirut, where she
lives. More than 19,000 people are squeezed into a square kilometre of
land. Inhabitants lived there for many years in tents, but now many live
in makeshift houses, often with one family to a room. There is no proper
access to water, sanitation, electricity or telephones.
Using the excuse of supporting the return of Palestinian refugees to
their homeland, successive Lebanese government have treated the camps as
temporary, despite the fact that they have now been in place for 54 years.
There are many diseases, Mahmoud explained. Especially in summer.
One in 10 children suffers from severe anaemia and malnutrition. Depression
The United Nations provides clinics in the camps, but for serious medical
problems Palestinians are referred to hospitals and the UN only covers
25-50% of the cost of treatment. People die at home because they can't
pay, Mahmoud explained. I know two women with breast cancer, who suffer
in front of their children because they can't afford treatment.
The root of the problem is not that we were born poor. We didn't suffer
a natural catastrophe, it was a catastrophe created by human beings, Mahmoud
insisted. Human beings should take responsibility for resolving it. Why
do governments ignore the UN resolutions against Israel?
Palestinians want peace, but peace with justice. We want the right
to return [to Palestine]. Because we have suffered for 54 years, we don't
want anyone else to suffer. Let us return and we will live in peace.
Mahmoud's visit followed the decision by the Australian government to
cut its aid to Palestinian non-government organisations. We are desperately
in need of funds for our programs and we are deeply concerned that the
Australian government appears to be supporting war in our region while
it cuts urgently needed aid programs to Palestinian women and children
and the elderly.
From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.
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