UN agencies help children displaced by Lebanese fighting return to school

UN agencies help children displaced by Lebanese fighting return to school

About 1,000 Palestinian children and teachers displaced from a refugee camp in northern Lebanon because of deadly fighting have returned to school ahead of critical examinations under a programme organized by two United Nations aid agencies.

Eight buses are ferrying the youths and teachers from the Beddawi refugee camp to schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the area around Tripoli, according to a press release issued today by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is also supporting the operation.

Under the bus programme, which began on Saturday, the teenage pupils and their teachers are being transported in three shifts each day to the schools.

Classes normally held at Beddawi had stopped last month so that schools there could be converted to shelters for the thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting between Lebanese armed forces and Fatah al-Islam gunmen in the nearby Nahr el-Bared camp.

UNRWA estimates that 21,000 people have fled Nahr el-Bared since fighting erupted on 20 May, with the majority of families living now in Beddawi, either in the schools or with host families.

This has meant that schools at both Beddawi and Nahr el-Bared have closed at a crucial time in the Lebanese academic calendar, when qualifying examinations are nearing.

Students in grade nine face a mandatory “Brevet” exam before they can pursue secondary school education, while senior students must take the Baccalaureate exam to qualify for university.

UNICEF stressed today that a return to school for the students is vital for more than just academic reasons; it also enhances the emotional well-being of children caught up in extremely difficult living conditions.

Aside from the bus programme with UNRWA, UNICEF is strengthening its recreation programmes and psychosocial support services for children affected by the fighting in Nahr el-Bared. Recreation kits have been distributed to more than 3,000 children and over 100 Palestinian youths have been trained to facilitate games, sports and other activities with their peers.

Yesterday UNRWA launched an emergency appeal for nearly $13 million to help the Palestinians who have fled Nahr el-Bared, with the funds raised to be spent on food assistance and emergency shelter to relieve the congestion at Beddawi.