Decade of Despair: The Contested Rebuilding of the Nahr Al-Bared Refugee Camp, Lebanon, 2007-2017

By Knudsen, Are John | Refuge, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Decade of Despair: The Contested Rebuilding of the Nahr Al-Bared Refugee Camp, Lebanon, 2007-2017


Knudsen, Are John, Refuge


Abstract

In mid-2007 the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli was destroyed by the Lebanese Army battling an insurgent Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam. Displacing about 30,000 Palestinian refugees, it was one of the largest internal battles in post-civil war Lebanon. A decade later, the camp has yet to be fully rebuilt; indeed, reconstruction has been slow, conflictual, and underfunded. Rebuilding the camp has been contested and delayed by political opposition, funding shortfalls, and complex ownership of land and property. About half of the displaced families have been able to return, the remainder are internally displaced, living temporarily in other camps or rented apartments. This article analyzes the slow-paced reconstruction of the Nahr al-Bared camp and especially what can be learnt from rehousing refugees in a militarized space of exception.

Resume

A la mi-2007, le camp de refugies de Nahr al-Bared a ete detruit par l'armee libanaise alors qu'elle combattait Fatah al-Islam, un groupe de rebelles islamistes. Ce conflit, l'un des conflits internes les plus importants apres la guerre civile libanaise, a deplace environ 30 000 refugies palestiniens. Dix ans plus tard, le camp reste encore a reconstruire entierement; en realite, sa reconstruction est lente, conflictuelle et insuffisamment financee. Cette reconstruction est contestee et retardee par une opposition politique, par un manque de fonds, et par des problemes complexes de propriete fonciere et patrimoniale. Aujourd'hui, environ la moitie des familles deplacees ont pu retourner au camp, l'autre moitie restant deplacee a l'interieur du pays, vivant de maniere temporaire dans d'autres camps ou dans des appartements loues. Cet article analyse la lente reconstruction du camp de Nahr al-Bared, et tout particulierement les enseignements qui peuvent etre tires quant au relogement des refugies dans un espace militarise d'exception.

Introduction

On 20 May 2007, after weeks of minor skirmishes, heavy fighting broke out between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam, a militant Islamist group that had infiltrated the Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli (figure 1). After fifteen weeks of intense bombardment and gunfire, the camp was reduced to rubble and the death toll had reached 500, including around 226 militants and 179 soldiers. (1) At least 50 civilians were also killed in the bloody standoff that forced the camp's 30,000 residents to flee, most of them to the Beddawi refugee camp located ten kilometres to the south, doubling the camp's population. This was one of the biggest internal conflict events since end of the civil war in 1990. Following in the wake of nationwide political crises-- the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri and the 2006 July War with Israel--the battle turned into a proxy war between pro-Syrian and pro-Western government blocs. (2)

Cautious of being drawn into an urban street fight in the alleyways of the camp, the army resorted to mortar fire and aerial bombardment of the camp. (3) The sustained bombing accounted for the enormous physical destruction of the Nahr al-Bared camp. (4) Almost 6,000 residential and commercial units were damaged or destroyed, as was the camp's rudimentary infrastructure: electricity, water, and sewage. (5) The army's siege trapped civilians inside the camp, ignoring calls for a truce by humanitarian groups. The last civilians were evacuated from the camp in late August, more than two months after the battle began. In September, after more than one hundred days of sustained bombing, the last Fatah al-Islam fighters were defeated and the remaining 215 militiamen taken into custody. (6) Palestinian officials from Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) differed in their response to the army's siege of the camp but, fearing reprisals against the refugees, chose to protect the residents at the expense of the camp. (7) Lacking protection from political patrons, the camp could be destroyed without consequence. …

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