Shatila Girls - Portraits
“We love life, even when things are bad” seventeen-year-old Fatima and her friends say. These girls belong to a third generation of Palestinian refugees. Their ancestors fled what became Israel in 1948 and settled in Shatila camp, a Palestinian refugee camp covering less than a single square kilometer on the southern fringes of the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
Girls living in Shatila camp, are growing up in a difficult environment: an erratic electricity supply, undrinkable salty water, cramped housing, few jobs and violence. The overcrowding is severe and getting even worse now that the war in Syria brings an influx of Syria’s Palestinian refugees, fleeing their adopted country’s violence. According to camp administrators, since the conflict in Syria ignited, Shatila’s population has grown with more than a third to about 25 000. Amneh, fifteen, is one of the more recent arrivals from Syria. When she turned up at the camp in December last year, Amneh was shocked at the living conditions of Lebanon’s Palestinians who have no political, social or civil rights.
The girls cherish their Palestinian identity, claiming the right to return to the land of their ancestors. In the mean time, they aspire to become engineers, doctors, dentists, journalists among others; all professions from which as Palestinians they are banned in Lebanon. By studying hard and trying to obtain a scholarship for higher education, most girls hope to escape the harsh reality of camp life and have a chance at a better life in another country. School dropout rates are much higher for boys than for girls. Girls, of whom families are more protective, stay at home more. Going to school becomes a moment to enjoy some freedom.
However, like many other young Palestinian refugees from Syria, Amneh can’t continue her education. Overcrowding in the UN funded schools for Palestinian refugees make it difficult to find a place and furthermore, part of the teachings in Lebanese schools is in English, a language that many Syrian girls don’t speak.
Despite their challenging life as stateless refugees, Shatila’s girls try to enjoy life to the fullest, grasping any opportunity to have some fun.