SIDON: Hundreds of refugees in Sidon waited hours in the sun Monday to receive their monthly stipends from the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian Refugees, in scenes that many described “humiliating.”
Huge queues of refugees appeared in front of money transfer companies on Sidon’s Bank Street as transfer houses reopened for the first time after Lebanon came out of a four-day lockdown period Monday.
The lockdown period was designed to contain the spread of coronavirus after a recent spike in infections and to allow health teams to test and track suspected COVID-19 cases across Lebanon. But such scenes as witnessed Monday in Sidon undermine these efforts, as few of the refugees were able to observe physical distancing measures while they queued under the blazing sun.
The chaos and confusion was amplified by the fact that a number of the refugees had received the wrong serial number to access their funds and that no UNWRA representative was present to manage the disbursement.
“They should have made the place of delivery in UNRWA offices, schools, or clinics, rather than making people go back and forth like this,” Umm Qutaiba Al-Ahmad told The Daily Star while queuing.
“We place the responsibility on the director of UNRWA ... This is an injustice to us and a great insult to the Palestinian people,” Ibrahim Meziane said.
Palestinian activist Asif Moussa agreed. “The UNWRA administration is responsible because it contracted a small financial institution that could not meet the needs of families and transaction procedure. We hold them responsible for this insult that the people here have been subjected to and for the poor distribution method in light of the coronavirus epidemic.”
UNWRA’s director in Sidon Dr. Ibrahim Khatib said that the overcrowding was down to three reasons, the first being that only two transfer company branches were open in the city. The company’s other branches in Sidon didn’t have enough cash in store to cover the requirements Monday.
“The second reason is that the distribution coincided with the beginning of the week and came immediately after the banks had been closed over the previous days due to the general mobilization,” Khatib added. “The beneficiaries also started queuing from seven in the morning, while the money transfer company did not open its doors before 10 a.m.”
Khatib explained that he had contacted the company to ensure that the required funds would now be available at all branches of the company in and around Sidon.
Each Palestinian refugee registered with UNWRA is entitled to around 112,000 Lebanese pounds. Palestinian refugee from Syria take LL150,000. Both are eligible to collect an additional LL650,000 allowance that covers rent for two months.