Written by: Mahmoud Hassanein

Upon initial reflection, when one becomes aware that the Palestinian case has endured for 75 years without resolution, it is evident that time has passed swiftly. Is it plausible that all these years have elapsed so quickly? Perhaps you may be surprised by the speed of time and its passage. However, this is your reality alone. It is not the same for those living in refugee camps.

it has been over seven decades since the Nakba and the absence of any prospects for a resolution to the refugee problem on a global scale. This includes United Nations resolutions and others. The lengthy decades have undoubtedly had negative repercussions on all aspects of life for refugees. Camps, both in the homeland and in diaspora, have been the most severely impacted. They endured the greatest suffering among the Palestinian people. The camps continue to grapple with extremely challenging social, economic, health, psychological and educational conditions.

The hazy horizon of the camps render the future uncertain and the vision unclear. This negativity reflects upon life within the camps. The number of refugees has multiplied approximately sevenfold since the Nakba, reaching over 6.5 million refugees. Based on the records of The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees - UNRWA, around 28% of Palestinian refugees reside in 58 officially recognised camps affiliated with UNRWA, distributed in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab countries. This staggering figure indicates that one-third of refugees live in camps that lack the basic components of a dignified human existence. This raises a fundamental question: Will life in the camps shape the refugees into normal human beings?

Considering the reality of refugee youth within the Palestinian society, which is predominantly youthful, it can best be described as standing on the precipice of a chasm. They are unable to leap forward or retreat. Despite all attempts to escape the camp's circumstances and their repercussions, what is ingrained in one's psyche during childhood remains with the individual throughout his or her lifetime. Those who succeed in leaving the camp still remain its prisoners, even if they relocate to another area. They simply transition from one state of refuge to another unknown state of exile and are exhausted from the temporary and arduous life in the camp.

The Four Seasons: Successive Disasters in the Camp

In the camp, winter represents a heavy nightmare that casts its shadow upon the refugees. Despite the benefits rainfall brings to many outside the camp, its presence within the camp intensifies and exacerbates the refugees' suffering. The adjacent houses, due to overcrowding, do not bring warmth to their inhabitants. Instead, this condition intensifies the harshness of their lives. There is no ventilation or proper drainage for water making the alleys, roads and roofs of the houses contribute to the worsening conditions and misery of the place. The same holds true for the summer. Refugees suffocate day and night without anyone's knowledge. Moisture permeates the homes, making it impossible for sunlight to enter during the summer and other seasons. Each season brings its own disaster to the camp, with each inflicting a heavy toll.

An aerial view of the camp reveals its architectural novelties, with intertwining alleyways and twisted streets. Even the haphazardly constructed buildings, which take on a vertical growth pattern, violate the sanctity of privacy. This especially affects women and girls. The noise of the place and the cries of the exhausted people constantly fill one's head, minute after minute. Due to this oppressive housing situation, there is respite.

People in the outside world wake up in the morning to the sights of nature, the beauty of trees and flowers. Meanwhile, as refugees, we wake up to piles of waste overflowing on the sides of the roads and houses. The accumulation of all these factors harm our eyes before they harm our spirits.

As Ibn Khaldun states, humans are products of their environment. It is natural for a refugee to be quick to become angry, calm down, hope or bury that hope as well. The conditions experienced by the camps and their residents can be described as the most horrifying they have ever encountered.

Despite the contributions and studies conducted by researchers and scholars on the reality of life in refugee camps, this field remains unknown to those living outside the camp walls. As Eastern culture states, houses have secrets. No matter how many scientists study the social and psychological conditions of refugees’ living conditions, they will fail to understand since they have not lived days, months or even years within the camp environment.

In the end, since camps were considered a “temporary” state, the theory to not improve the living conditions in order to keep the right of return has failed. No matter how much refugees try to improve their harsh living conditions, it will not solve the problems, psychological illnesses and social crises imprinted on their minds and souls because of the camps they live in. It is only natural that the rate of psychological illnesses among refugees is high. The harsh reality illustrates to us that in every alley of the camp, you will find one or more young people suffering from mental disorders and crises. Despite the scarcity or absence of statistics on this matter, illnesses increase and disorders escalate even more. We are in a sick environment and anyone in it will be affected in one way or another.

The question remains: How can a decent life be provided for Palestinian refugees?

Thank you...

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.