Written by Dr. Bernard Sabella, Executive Secretary
Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees (DSPR)
Middle East Council of Churches
Dear Partners, Friends and Colleagues,
A remarkable increase in numbers of infected both in Palestine and Israel had dashed hopes that the first phase of Covid-19 infections was indeed behind us. DSPR Jerusalem and the West Bank has resumed field visits to the localities designated for the implementation of projects and activities. Shortly, DSPR-West Bank will share a strategic approach for advocacy regarding the foreseen annexation plan. The effects of annexation are expected to remain with us for years to come.
DSPR-Gaza has been cleared by the Ministry of Labor to resume its vocational training classes with safety precautions followed. In our three health clinics in the Gaza Strip, precautions especially social distancing are followed and appointments for patients are made in order to ensure the health safety of all. All of our activities and programs are on-going as we remain hopeful that Covid19 will spare us its effects given Gaza’s population density, overall chronic poverty and unemployment and with limited health capacities to cope with large scale infections.
In DSPR in the Galilee of the Nations, our work continues and we have hired a part time program manager to supervise the intergroup and interfaith work among young people. We continue with our Acre women work and are striving to full resumption of all of our programs and activities come September.
In Jordan, the government continues to exercise caution and to enforce safety precautions nation-wide which keep the rates of infection under control.
Our colleagues in Jordan report that the psycho-social training workshops, which reach 500 women from the refugee camps of Talbieh and Hitteen, are going on with the needed social distance and health precautions. Work continues with the Multiple Options for Return to Syrian Refugees as preparatory stakeholders and beneficiaries surveys are undertaken covering the Jerash, Husn and Souf refugee camps. A psycho-social program focusing on therapy is soon to start with Syrian refugees and host communities expected to reach to over one thousand five hundred women. DSPR-Jordan is currently in the process of developing a program which would empower potential beneficiaries, both youth and women, in developing further their business skills and to use their entrepreneurial experience to launch or re-launch their own businesses. Production kitchens for five hundred women in the Jerash refugee camp would see multiple workshops for preparing marketable food. Over three hundred families will be reached with food parcels as part of ACTAlliance emergency appeal.
In DSPR-Lebanon, the problem remains the financial instability of the system. Banks do not allow free withdrawals from private accounts which have rendered more of the middle class Lebanese prone to poverty. Palestinian refugee camps are in no better situation as infections increase there and means to check them remain quite limited. In particular the official exchange rate for the Lebanese Pound of 1,500 Pounds to the US Dollar is counteracted by a market exchange rate of close to 7,000 Pounds to the Dollar. This has tremendous negative impact on the lives of our DSPR employees and beneficiaries as they cope with more cases of the dreaded virus. DSPR-Lebanon staff are now busy at two of our centers at Dbayeh and Sabra with the process of distributing vouchers for food and hygiene essentials to the neediest families in these two camps, thanks to the generosity of our partners. Together with like-minded organizations and with our lists of neediest families we continue to coordinate relief work during this pandemic and economic crises. Our colleague in Lebanon reports joyfully that over one hundred Syrian students are now in Damascus for their baccalaureate exams. She reports that they undertook the first exams while quarantined and once out of the quarantine UNRWA, our partner in Syria, would take care of hosting them. Forty five children ‘graduates’ in our Sabra kindergarten would be invited back in the summer in order to prepare them for the elementary school. In Dbayeh camp northeast of Beirut we face a particular problem as the private school where some of our students went is closing down due to the financial situation and the inability of parents to pay the dues. Apparently the financial situation is more worrisome than the effects of the coronavirus in Lebanon.
Of particular concern is the effect of the political situation with the looming annexation on the health of the chronically ill in the Gaza Strip. In order for them to exit Gaza they need to have clearance through coordination between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli liaison offices. Due to the decision of the Palestinian National Authority to cease all coordination with the Israeli authorities, exit permits from the Gaza Strip for the chronically ill had become almost impossible to secure. The World Health Organization is covering this issue of concern.
Apparently the policy of ‘coexisting’ with Covid19 infections has been adopted by all governments and health ministries of the region. This policy translates into very localized lockdowns on nuclei of infections in neighborhoods. Safety precautions such as wearing of masks, social distance and hygiene have been enforced and it is hoped that these measures would stem the tide of rising infections. Unfortunately ‘coexisting’ with Covid19 is misunderstood by some as if the virus is behind us which results in carelessness in enforcing personal precautions with dire infection results. Particularly during the summer ‘wedding’ season throughout the region, the concern for more infections is quite serious.