Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced on Tuesday that the organisation will allocate $500,000 to support Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon during the coronavirus pandemic.
Haniyeh said the move comes “as a result of the emergency conditions that the Palestinian people are going through in Lebanon,” adding that “in difficult circumstances, [he] took a decision to urgently relieve [Palestinian] people in the camps.”
The statement called for solidarity and expressed a wish for Lebanon to overcome the coronavirus outbreak with “solidity, will and determination.”
The move comes after the Lebanese government announced a nationwide lockdown on 15 March in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The measures have shuttered the country’s land, air and seaports to traffic, closed all non-essential public and private institutions and forced people to stay inside.
Lebanon hosts 475,075 Palestinian refugees across 12 camps, according to an URNWA report from 1 January 2019.
Palestinians in Lebanon, who are banned from working in several industries apart from construction and cleaning, are unable to work, and have been left with no money to buy food until the lockdown ends.
Olfat Mahmoud, a Palestinian refugee and cofounder of the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation (PWHO), told Arab News that “neighbours now share food,” but that the major “problem is that the camps are overcrowded… until now we have no cases, but if one person gets infected it means that 50,000 will get infected.”
Executive Chairman of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea called on the government to impose “measures regarding Palestinian refugee camps… namely, closing all camps and preventing everyone from entering or leaving them” adding that “the state has to provide them with whatever they need.”
Lebanon’s Minister of Health Hamad Hasan, however, said that health care for refugees is a responsibility shared by the state and United Nations agencies but blamed the international community for being slow to react to the crisis.
“The international community with its UN agencies is a bit late in putting plans, thinking about establishing a field hospital or supporting the health ministry so that it can carry out its obligations towards its people,” Hasan said.
UNRWA said that attempts to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus started early on with awareness campaigns, including the distribution of hygiene materials and leaflets.
However, the cash-strapped agency has been forced to launch an appeal to raise $14 million to “prepare and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.” The organisation has faced budgetary issues since 2018 when the US halted its $360 million annual aid package.