Covid-19

Fighting coronavirus at Ain el-Helweh: "Necessity is the mother of invention"

No cases of Covid-19 have so far been reported in Lebanon's refugee camps but officials are appealing for help as they fear a spread of the pandemic.

A decontamination airlock built by young volunteers of the Ain el-Helweh camp. Handout Photo

At the entrance of the Ain el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the southern city of Sidon, a decontamination airlock built by young volunteers now welcomes people wishing to enter the shantytown. The plastic airlock, which looks like a phone booth, was built at the initiative of members of the camp’s Civil Defense forces in an attempt to protect the inhabitants from coronavirus.

Naim Zeidan, head of the camp’s Palestinian Civil Defense, said camp inhabitants took the initiative to make such an installation with means at hand. "One person at a time can enter the airlock. It runs on steam: water and disinfectants are placed in a container outside the box, and a pipe connected to it diffuses the steam into the cabin. Thus, anyone who enters the airlock is decontaminated, along with his clothes and anything he carries," Zeidan told L'Orient-Le Jour.

Young people at the camp also set up a mobile sprinkler which disinfects the cars entering Ain el-Helweh.

"We are a group of volunteer residents," said Said, one of the young men. We take turns to disinfect the persons who come into the camp and to take their temperature as well. "

So far, no cases of Covid-19 have been reported neither in Ain el-Helweh, which is the largest Palestinian camp in Lebanon, nor in any other refugee camps, but Palestinian camp residents and officials have great fear of a spread of the virus. Palestinian officials explained that even if people are trying as much as possible to respect confinement measures, it is extremely difficult to enforce safe distances in the narrow alleys of the camp, and in its cramped dwellings, where some 80,000 to 90,000 people are crammed.


"How a family of ten can respect confinement?"

"We have declared a state of emergency in the camps across Lebanon and have started from the beginning of the crisis to take measures within our means, mostly by disinfecting the neighborhoods and the alleys of Ain el-Helweh," said Munir Maqdah, a Fatah leader in Lebanon.

"But we are on our own! Since the virus started to spread (in Lebanon), international humanitarian organizations haven't set foot in the camp, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa) has been totally absent, providing no humanitarian or medical assistance," Maqdah explained, noting that the UN agency has not even provided any disinfection materials or protection equipment. "The situation in the camp is difficult," he said. "How to ask a family of ten people who are crammed into a precarious two-room dwelling to abide by the confinement measures? "

In an urgent appeal, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) asked UNRWA to intervene rapidly to help the Palestinian refugees, by setting up an emergency relief plan and providing material aid to the residents, who have stopped working inside and outside the camp since the crisis began.

The “Islamic Forces” in Ain el-Helweh, which comprise Palestinian groups such as Hamas and are not part of the PLO, also urgently called on UNRWA to "assume its responsibilities" and help the Palestinian refugees.

Ain el-Helweh has only three dispensaries. But the Hamshari hospital in Sidon, located at the entrance of the camp, announced that "as a result of efforts deployed by the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon, it is now possible to perform the PCR screening test" for the camp residents at its location. Test fees will be covered by the Palestinian Red Crescent.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 16th of April)



At the entrance of the Ain el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the southern city of Sidon, a decontamination airlock built by young volunteers now welcomes people wishing to enter the shantytown. The plastic airlock, which looks like a phone booth, was built at the initiative of members of the camp’s Civil Defense forces in an attempt to protect the inhabitants from...

comments (0)

Comments (0)