Mar Elias Camp, Beirut, Lebanon. 2018.

Seventy years after the Nakba (the Catastrophe) in 1948 when Palestinians were forced to leave their villages upon the creation of the state of Israel, Canadian and French photographer Jennifer Chan went to Lebanon to document life in the refugee camps in this series ‘Home Away from Home.’ 

Burj Shemali Camp, North Lebanon. 2018.

For if life had taught her anything, it was that healing and peace can begin only with acknowledgment of wrongs committed.

– Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin

Deprived of citizenship and all basic rights, three/four generations of Palestinians have been living in camps throughout Lebanon since the Nakba (the Catastrophe) in 1948 when they were forced to leave their villages upon the creation of the state of Israel. Seventy full years later, 98% of Palestinians still depend on UN aid and 90% live under poverty line. Temporary camps became permanent fixtures that refugees call home, with cramped living conditions, salty water, constant power cuts, open sewage and garbage piles, narrow alleys that never see light of the day, underfunded and crowded schools, poor health facilities. There are also few job prospects. Palestinians are barred from working in the public sector and over 70 professions, cannot access bank loans or own property, and have limited mobility due to their refugee status…

UNRWA clinics give you Panadol no matter what! 

– Refugee camp resident.

But I glimpsed a playground (one and only!) in El Buss Camp down south. I heard children sing and saw them dance. I met newly-wed couples and babies, grandparents with their grandchildren, bakers and grocers, young women and men going about their life… I heard murmurs of wedding plans and new constructions, graduations and celebrations, plans to move abroad, and the dream to return… Hope doesn’t die even when everything seems to be taken away.

I still remember the way to our village in Palestine and we must tell our grandchildren!

– Refugee camp resident.

To make the already tense and unsustainable situation explode, over one million Syrian refugees have settled in Lebanon since the war broke out in 2011. These include hundreds of thousands who had been seasonal farm labourers in Lebanon who found themselves unable to return home.

Seventy-six percentage of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live under poverty line, making less than $3 a day and 56% fall under extreme poverty below $2 a day. Only 18% of Syrian refugees live in the 2000-plus camps of various sizes (nine tents per camp on average) spread throughout the Bekaa Valley.

Other Syrian refugees live in NGO-funded shelters or abandoned and dilapidated buildings in the cities where Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS), recent immigrants from Bangladesh, and the poorest Lebanese also live. Educated and professional Syrians work in retail or service professions, often as wait stations, to move abroad or go home when the war is over.

This project is part of an ongoing long-term series on the global refugee crisis. 

All Content © 2023 by Jennifer Chan