Bassima lives in the Sabra refugee camp in Lebanon.

A Palestinian refugee, she has struggled for the past 22 years to support her family.

But having found work at a Women's Centre and sent her children to college - she is now determined to aid those less fortunate than her.

Along with her best friend Nabila, they assist Syrian refugees arriving at the camp.

But with a new wave of refugees, the camp is changing, funding is being redirected and the already limited resources are being stretched more than ever.

Bassima has been best friends with Nabila for eight years [Al Jazeera]


By Reem Haddad

"I feel that I have to help Syrian refugees. I feel that because people helped our families when they came here. We have to stand by the Syrians." - Bassima.

In Sabra and Shatila, the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon's capital Beirut, a new wave of refugees is changing the face of the camp.

As Europe struggles to deal with the Syrian refugees attempting the perilous journey to reach their shores, countries that neighbour Syria have been welcoming refugees since the war began in 2011.

Lebanon, Syria's smallest neighbour, is home to an estimated two million Syrians, half of whom are unregistered. They now make up close to a quarter of the population.

But this isn’t the first time Lebanon has absorbed people escaping conflict. In 1948 following the formation of the State of Israel, large numbers of Palestinians fled to Lebanon. According to the UN there are close to 450,000 registered Palestinian refugees. The majority of them live in crowded camps plagued by a crumbling infrastructure, poor housing conditions, poverty and unemployment.

Despite living there for over 60 years they hold few rights, they cannot claim citizenship and are barred from working in over 20 professions.

Lebanon has not ratified the UN Convention on refugees and unlike other countries like Jordan and Turkey where Syrians now live, they have not built any official camps to house them. Syrians coming in have to fend for themselves seeking refuge wherever they can find it. Many of them now live in the Palestinian camps where rents are low.

In Sabra and Shatila, the population is estimated to have doubled. As they seek food, work, medical care and education this new wave of refugees is putting a considerable strain on Lebanon, itself a complex and fragile country still burdened by the ghosts of recent conflicts.

We met Bassima and Nabila, two Palestinian refugees, while filming stories for Life on Hold, Al Jazeera's web documentary on Syrian refugees in Lebanon. These two best friends who grew up in Sabra and Shatila were our guides in the camps.

It's not easy to film in the crowded streets and alleyways there, people are often suspicious of camera crews and we had a few run-ins with some angry young men. Many expressed resentment that the focus has shifted away from the plight of Palestinian refugees to the Syrians. From others we heard frustration that journalists and filmmaker's come and go, but that the conditions on the ground and the hardships in the camps persist despite all the media attention.

The ease with which Bassima and Nabila always defused the tension was impressive. The women, who have long been active in community service, are respected. They've known these young men all their lives and have taught or assisted many of their families, so we were allowed to continue.

But what was even more impressive was the kindness and patience with which they dispensed advice and help, especially to the Syrians who are struggling to adapt to life as refugees. Walking in the camps with them is like being with minor celebrities. People approach them with issues and concerns from domestic disputes, to health, and education and they take the time to listen to their stories.

Yet both these women have very little themselves, they live in the crowded buildings where water and electricity cuts are the norm. They struggle to make ends meet and to raise their families in a difficult environment where unemployment and discontent are rife. They are truly inspirational.

Bassima has witnessed many of the atrocities that Sabra and Shatila camp have endured, the War of the Camps and the massacre by the Christian Phalange, yet she remains strong. She told us she feels unbreakable. Through these amazing women, we were allowed a window into the world of the camps that is facing yet another upheaval.

Bassima and Nabila have long been active in the community and are well respected figures amongst the refugees [Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera