Home / Business / How Aid Groups Map Refugee Camps That Officially Don’t Exist

How Aid Groups Map Refugee Camps That Officially Don’t Exist

A mother holding her young son inside of a tent in a refugee camp

Staff from Switzerland-based Medair use clipboards, cell telephones, and GIS software program to find casual settlements of Syrian refugees throughout Lebanon.

On the outskirts of Zahle, a city in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, a pair of support employees carrying clipboards and cell telephones stroll by means of a small refugee camp, house to 11 makeshift shelters constructed from wooden and tarps.

A camp resident main them by means of the settlement—considered one of many within the Beqaa, a large agricultural plain between Beirut and Damascus with scattered villages of cinderblock homes—factors out a tent being renovated for the winter. He leads them into the kitchen of one other tent, highlighting cracking wooden helps and leaks within the ceiling. The help employees document the variety of residents in every tent, in addition to the variety of latrines and kitchens within the settlement.

The go to is a part of an initiative by the Switzerland-based NGO Medair to map the areas of the 1000’s of casual refugee settlements in Lebanon, a rustic the place even many metropolis buildings haven’t any road addresses, a lot much less tents on a dusty nation street.

“I at all times say that this venture is giving an deal with to those that misplaced their house, which is giving again a part of their dignity in a manner,” says Reine Hanna, Medair’s info administration venture supervisor, who helped develop the mapping venture.

The initiative depends on GIS know-how, although the uncooked information is collected the old-school manner, with out excessive tech mapping aids like drones. Mapping groups criss-cross the nation 12 months spherical, stopping at every camp to talk to residents and conduct a survey. They enter the coordinates of recent camps or modifications within the inhabitants or services of outdated ones right into a database that’s shared with UNHCR, the UN refugee company, and different NGOs working within the camps. The maps could be accessed by way of a cellular app by employees heading to the sphere to distribute support or reply to emergencies.

Lebanon, a small nation with an estimated native inhabitants of about four million, hosts greater than 900,000 registered Syrian refugees and probably a whole lot of 1000’s extra unregistered, making it the nation with the best inhabitants of refugees per capita on the earth.

However there aren’t any official refugee camps run by the federal government or the UN refugee company in Lebanon, the place refugees are a delicate topic. The nation isn’t a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Conference, and authorities officers check with the Syrians as “displaced,” not “refugees.”

Lebanese officers have been cautious of the Syrians settling completely, as Palestinian refugees did starting in 1948. Right this moment, greater than 70 years later, there are some 470,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, although the quantity residing within the nation is believed to be a lot decrease.

Maps compiled by Medair exhibiting the expansion within the variety of casual refugee camps in a single space of Lebanon over the previous six years.

Courtesy of Medair/UNHCR

In 2015, the federal government requested UNHCR to cease registering Syrian refugees, and it prevents development of everlasting refugee camps. Many of the refugees dwell in properties and residences, based on UN information. However the quantity residing in casual settlements has grown as some refugees who had lived in rented residences exhausted their financial savings and moved to tents. On the finish of 2019, Medair reported 302,209 Syrian refugees residing in additional than 6,000 casual camps, up from 236,000 in late 2016.

“The excessive rental prices and restricted shelter area in Lebanon coupled with the no-camp coverage within the nation pushed Syrian refugees to hunt shelter in a whole lot of spontaneous casual settlements,” says Lisa Abou Khaled, a spokesperson for UNHCR.

Refugees lease area from landowners with unused plots of floor—often in agricultural areas—and erect tents produced from wooden and tarps. UNHCR and different organizations present some constructing supplies and provides money help to among the neediest households, however many refugees pay lease out of pocket, sometimes about $50 a month.

The decentralized and casual nature of the refugee system—together with the final lack of road addresses within the nation—makes offering support or responding in emergencies like floods and fires a frightening prospect, Hanna says.

“For me, if I’ve to inform somebody the place I dwell, I inform them, ‘Take the second left after the bump within the street and perhaps you’ll discover my home,’” Hanna says. “So are you able to think about if you happen to’re attempting to inform somebody the place you reside in the course of nowhere in a settlement?”

When Hanna graduated from college in 2013 with a level in laptop science and a minor in GIS mapping, she didn’t count on to enter humanitarian work. However she shortly realized that her abilities had been in demand within the rising refugee response effort.

When Medair started mapping the settlements in 2013, employees discovered remoted camps that had by no means been visited by support organizations or obtained any providers. “Nobody knew they had been there, even, and the rationale for that’s some websites it took us a 45-minute drive from the closest freeway or the closest foremost street to get to them in the course of nowhere,” Hanna says. “However these are probably the most susceptible—these are the individuals who really want the help.”

The maps had been essential throughout final 12 months’s extreme winter storms, which left many camps inundated, permitting support teams to seek out the settlements in want of assist bailing out water or provides like contemporary mattresses and blankets.

The primary maps, in 2013, lined the Beqaa Valley, which hosts the nation’s highest focus of refugee settlements. In 2014, in coordination with UNHCR and a number of other different NGO companions, Medair expanded the mapping venture to all of Lebanon.

Many of the buildings within the casual camps are fabricated from wooden and tarps.{Photograph}: Jihad Muhammad/Getty Photographs

Utilizing Esri GIS mapping software program, groups fanned out throughout the nation and mapped each settlement they might discover. In some instances, UNHCR or different NGOs already had coordinates for the camps. In others, residents of neighboring settlements pointed the mapping groups to encampments. In some instances, the mapping groups merely drove by means of nation roads looking for tents.

Every settlement is designated with a “P code” (or place code), a sequence of numbers delineating the province, village space, and latitude and longitude. The mappers survey the camp residents to assemble and enter primary information on the variety of tents and residents, and on infrastructure akin to water sources and variety of latrines on the website.

The mapping groups repeat the survey each 4 months to notice modifications. In some instances, settlements are evicted by the Military or by landlords. In others, new camps spring up. Households would possibly transfer looking for seasonal work. Some would possibly return to Syria.

There’s now a hotline that refugees can name once they transfer to a brand new website, to request a go to from the mapping staff. “We used to ask refugees, municipalities—used to drive round in the course of nowhere simply attempting to see” the place the camps are, Hanna says. “Now we’ve got refugees themselves reaching out and calling the hotline.”

The modifications are famous within the mapping database, which is shared with UNHCR and different NGOs offering providers to the settlements. For example, if the mapping staff finds a brand new camp, the brand new arrivals might have “shelter kits” with plastic sheeting, vinyl, and wooden planks. Database entry is just shared with verified NGOs working within the space after receiving permission from UNHCR, Hanna stated.

Typically the mapping groups turn out to be an outlet for residents’ frustration over lack of support. Standards for help have turn out to be stricter as combating in Syria drags on and “donor fatigue” has set in.

Within the settlement close to Zahle, residents pointed to tents with splintering wooden and leaking roofs and complained that the camp had not obtained new tarps or wooden from the UN or different NGOs for 4 years.

Ahmad Ibrahim, a father of three residing within the camp, says he has no work, $8,000 in debt, and a leaking tent. “Yesterday, it rained a little bit bit and water got here in on my kids,” he says.

Ali Ismail, who has been working with the mapping staff within the Beqaa for six years, acknowledged that the work can turn out to be discouraging. “The toughest factor is whenever you go right into a camp and their state of affairs is kind of unhealthy and you may’t do something,” he says.

However he insists that the work makes a distinction. “There are camps the place, after we go, we discover individuals have newly arrived they usually don’t have something,” he says. The mapping staff provides the newcomers a code; then, “NGOs start to return and go to them and assist with shelter and latrines and so forth, and their state of affairs improves after a bit.”


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