The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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October 13, 2014

The Daily Star - Ain al-Hilweh NGOs steer kids from extremism, October 13, 2014

Venetia Rainey

Ain al-Hilweh, it’s not like other places in Lebanon, it has hundreds of problems,” said Ali Salam, the Sidon area officer for local NGO Nabaa, with a slow shake of his head. “Economic, social and political problems, cramped housing, no privacy, poor sanitation, water, electricity – it’s much worse than most of Lebanon,” he sighed. “And on top of that there is a basic lack of rights.”

“There is more and more pressure every day, eventually there must be an explosion.”

The overriding verdict on Lebanon’s largest Palestinian camp is that it is a dangerous slum constantly on the brink of collapse, and further, a lawless haven for extremist groups always looking for young new recruits.

Several Al-Qaeda-linked groups are known to have a presence there, and the assassination last week of a Fatah Movement official was just the latest bloody installment in an ongoing struggle between the camp’s numerous factions and groups. Weapons are rife and the risk of radicalization is pervasive.

But despite Ain al-Hilweh’s precarious security situation and appalling social and economic problems, NGOs there are fighting an uphill battle to keep the camp’s most vulnerable youth away from extremism and violence and build a more positive generation for the future.

On a dusty and uneven but otherwise clean street, Salam gestured the way into Nabaa’s center, one of several it has in six Palestinian camps across the country. Inside, a few classrooms are arranged around a small covered playground with plastic slides. In the corner, a large sink is decorated with splashes of paint and colorful hand prints, the visible remnants of a particularly energetic arts and crafts session.

From awareness sessions on children’s rights and recreational activities to community development programs and advocacy projects, Nabaa aims to support young children who are most at risk of violence and neglect in order to provide them with better opportunities and a safer environment to grow up in.

“We are doing everything we can to keep kids away from the weapons [here],” Salam said.

“Many people want to pull them into conflicts, and we try to prevent this. It’s obviously important.”

“No one really talks about this issue in political parties. If you go to them they will say they do not want these children fighting, but when there are clashes you see them everywhere in the streets.”

Nearly half of the camp’s population is under 25, according to UNRWA. Estimates for how many people live in the 1.25 kilometer square camp vary, but most agree on roughly 100,000, including around 10,000 Syrian refugees.

Palestinian children attend a totally separate school system run by UNRWA, and dropout rates are high, NGO workers say. Legally, Palestinians are barred from around 20 professions in Lebanon, and as a result unemployment is common. They also lack proper citizenship and many of the basic rights that come with it. According to UNRWA, Lebanon has more Palestinian refugees living in abject poverty than anywhere else it works, including Gaza.

“I have worked with so many cases of aggressive children who have been deeply affected by their environment,” said Hashem Hashem, manager at Nabaa’s Ain al-Hilweh center. “We work with these children not just in the center, but also in school with the help of UNRWA, and at home by working with their parents.”

“We work to channel the energy in these kids into something more positive. We keep them busy so they don’t have time to think about extremist groups such as Daesh [ISIS] or Nusra [Front],” he added.

A five-minute walk away, through narrow backstreets filled with raucous children playing with toy guns and buckets, is one of three Solidarity Centers in the camp. Murals on the walls outside show men cradling chickens and maps of historic Palestine.

Inside, manager Ibtissam Abu Salem explained about the huge range of activities the centers offered local kids “to increase their basic skills in conflict management and peace building.”

“It’s very important to work on these skills so that kids see that you can solve problems in a positive way, peacefully,” she said.

Solidarity Centers offer remedial classes to help children with their homework or missed classes, psychosocial support and sessions on everything from human rights to hygiene. One of their initiatives, an election for best friend of the month, is what Abu Salem called an “entertaining and objective way ... to show other kids how to act, and it promotes democracy.”

Keeping kids in school was particularly vital, she emphasized. “We believe that education is like a weapon that can protect kids from extremist groups or people,” she said. “Our work on preventing this [kids joining extremist groups] is indirect of course, if it was direct we would only be putting ourselves in harm’s way.”

The sensitivity that surrounds the issue of children and extremism in Ain al-Hilweh made many wary of speaking openly, but one local aid worker, who asked not to be named, said recruitment of young people by radical groups was on the up.

“Political parties and other groups here definitely target kids, and it has really increased recently,” the source said from his home in the camp. “Obviously it’s much easier to affect a child’s brain.”

“Sometimes they give them guns and sometimes it’s secret jobs, like monitoring someone,” the source added. “In the last two years a lot of kids from here have also been sent to fight in Syria. It’s a small number of people doing it [recruiting and sending them], but they are out of the control of the camp’s political factions.”

The strength of groups such as ISIS and Nusra Front in Ain al-Hilweh is not known, but the camp’s Popular Committees deny they have any foothold there, and have played down the recent appearance of flags and banners associated with the groups.

“The Islamist groups here do not have strong links with Daesh and Nusra,” said Abed Abu Saleh, head of one of the Popular Committees in the Sidon area.

He agreed that NGOs such as Nabaa and Solidarity Centers were vital in “keeping children off the streets,” adding that “the people here have no capacity to support their kids properly.”

“But how do we stop children from joining Daesh and Nusra? For this you must look to the economic situation. If you can improve this you can cut through such messages. They need jobs if we want to stop this.”

This sentiment was echoed by everyone who spoke to The Daily Star. “Palestinian teens have no support, no jobs, no source of income,” the aid worker said. “So what will they do? They are easy prey for extremists.”

“Palestinians need their full rights,” agreed Nabaa’s Salam. “Then everything else will be fixed.”

“In the meantime we continue our work, because we believe we can make a change through this.”

Source & Link: The Daily Star

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