West bank: fears of an outbreak of cases in the refugee camps

Cisjordanie: craintes d'une flambée des cas dans les camps de réfugiés

AL-AMARI | The strong increase in the case of a new coronavirus in the occupied west bank fear an explosion of the disease in the palestinian refugee camps cramped, overcrowded, and where the distance is difficult to meet.

At the beginning of the pandemic in march, the palestinian Authority quickly imposed a containment to combat the spread of the virus in the palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

But as the déconfinement, from the end of may, the number of cases is on the rise again. This is attributed to the non-observance of the restrictions related to the rallies and the movement of workers between the west bank and Israel, countries that also saves these last few weeks of the records of the new infections.

Since the appearance of the COVID-19 in the west bank in march, the ministry of Health has identified more than 10 860 cases, of which more than 75 deaths. For the single month of July, more than 8,500 cases were registered, of which nearly 70 deaths compared to only 2 350 cases, including five deaths between march and July.

With the worsening of the health crisis, concerns are growing in the 19 camps of the west bank, which welcome approximately 190 000 refugees. These are assisted by the UN Agency for palestinian refugees (Unrwa), which provides medical assistance and manages the schools.

In the camp of Al-Amari, near Ramallah (north), 8 000 people live within a square kilometer.

“There is no place to impose estrangement, or appropriate space to perform quarantine,” said Taha Al-Bess, head of a popular committee that serves as the body municipal.

“The chimera”

At the entrance of Al-Amari, the road is about six metres wide, then becomes narrower. The streets side are not more than three metres.

“The streets are narrow, the buildings are very close to each other, talk about spacing is the chimera,” says Taha Al-Bess.

Few cases of patients and no deaths have so far been identified in the Al-Amari, but the committee is following with concern what is happening in the other camps.

In one of Jalazoun, also near Ramallah, more than 200 cases have been reported in recent weeks, including two deaths, among some 8,000 refugees. The balance sheet is similar in the camp of Al-Fawar near Hebron (south).

“It is impossible to implement the distance and prevent contact between the sick and other people,” says Naël Nakhleh, a member of an emergency committee, put in place in Jalazoun to tackle the increase in cases.

As a result, a debate has emerged: who is responsible for the management of the health emergency in the camps? To the palestinian Authority or Unrwa?

According to the UN, have the status of refugees more than 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled their lands between April and August 1948 at the time of the creation of the State of Israel, and their descendants. They now live in camps in hard-to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the west bank, and its helped by the Unrwa.

“The hammer and the anvil”

For Ahmed Hanoun, in charge of the refugee file in the Organization for the liberation of Palestine (PLO), Unrwa must ensure the health management. But “we are trying to work with them,” he says to the AFP, saying it was “seriously concerned” by the situation.

For Unrwa, the fear is also needed, especially as the pandemic is taking place in a context already difficult for the agency.

“The situation in the camps is very worrying, especially when one knows the financial difficulties of the agency,” says Kazem Abu Khalaf, the spokesman of the Unrwa in the west bank.

In 2018, Washington, until then the largest donor of the agency, has terminated its annual financial assistance of $ 300 million. Since then, the organization multiplies the calls for donations and emergency aid from its donors.

In the meantime, Al-Amari, the inhabitants have decided to take things in hand and post at the entrance of the camp to take the temperature of each person.

“The Unrwa said that it does not have the resources, the palestinian Authority said that it has not the means: we find ourselves between the hammer and the anvil”, breath Taha Al-Bess.

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