On Friday, March 11th, hundreds of Palestinians protested outside of UNRWA's Lebanon Field Office Headquarters. The official catalyst behind the demonstration was the death of ten-year-old Mohammed Nabih Taha, a former resident of Ein al-Hilweh. Having suffered from severe respiratory difficulties throughout his life, Mohammed was given a hospital referral from one of UNRWA's clinics on March 7th, and was transferred to Saida Governmental Hospital's emergency room. There, he was given emergency resuscitative care, but was forced to relocate to Dallaa Hospital due to a lack of available respirators. While waiting in Dallaa's emergency room, Mohammed passed away.
Following Mohammed's death, his father carried his body back to one of UNRWA's Health Centers in Ein al-Hilweh. There, a confrontation between Mohammed's father and Health Center staff spilled out into the streets. Hundreds of people quickly surrounded the Health Center, which forced UNRWA to shut down both of its clinics in Ein al-Hilweh. Although UNRWA acted fully within its scope to save Mohammed's life, Palestinian refugees have no choice but to take their anger out on UNRWA when a tragedy happens; UNRWA is the lifeline for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, especially those that live inside the camps.
At around 9:30 am, dozens of buses arrived outside of UNRWA's headquarters. By 9:45, the buses had emptied and hundreds of refugees from a variety of refugee camps had congregated outside of UNRWA's main gate. Initially, they were chanting, "al-sha3b yurid isqat al-nitham," the same words to which millions of Egyptians marched in unison as they forced Mubarak out of power (in English, the chant translates to: the people want the collapse of the system). After a few minutes, however, the chant changed to, "al-sha3b yurid isqat al-mudeer," which translates to, "the people want the collapse of the director."
Contrary to some reports, protesters did not try and storm UNRWA's facilities. Rather, at one point during the demonstration, popular committee representatives were allowed onto the premises and they spoke with several UNRWA officials and security personnel. Although the protest was peaceful, the refugees that gathered on Friday were definitely upset, and their anger did not go unnoticed (Director Salvatore Lombardo's memorandum about the incident reflected the organization's deep sadness over Mohammed's death, and an understanding of UNRWA's responsibility to respond to protesters' feelings with empathy and compassion). An investigation has been launched into the circumstances surrounding Mohammed's death, and hopefully Mohammed's family will be able to find peace in the coming days and weeks.
Below is a short video of the protest. I am trying to upload two more, but am having problems with my internet browser: