Observers

A young mother carrying her baby in her arms was shot and killed at the entrance of Shatila camp for Palestinian refugees in Beirut on June 1. Surveillance footage of this horrific incident quickly began to circulate on social media across Lebanon with people calling for justice for the latest victim of the drug trafficking ring controlling the camp.

Surveillance footage captured the horrible incident. A young woman carrying her baby in one arm and a sack of groceries in the other stands at the side of the road, getting ready to cross. She suddenly turns her head to the left, frightened by the sound of gunshots. She tries to move away but then falls to the ground, wounded, while still grasping her baby. Around her, people flee towards the right. The young woman lying on the ground stops moving and the video cuts out.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team decided not to share the video. Here is a screengrab taken from the video before the shots were fired.


The video of the young mother’s death was shared widely on Twitter and Facebook, garnering at least 40,000 views. The many people who shared it, including prominent Lebanese and Palestinian public figures, denounced the extremely dangerous conditions for people living in camps for Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The evening after the woman was killed, someone involved in the gunfight turned himself into the authorities. Security forces carried out an operation that same night with the aim of arresting drug traffickers, but none of the people involved in the gunfight that killed the young woman have been identified. Further operations were carried out the week after the young woman’s death.
 
Who was the victim?
 
The victim, Wouroud Kanju, was only 28 years old. She was Lebanese and lived outside the camp but went there for work every day. The day she died, she took Ariha street, which is at the camp entrance, on her way home. According to media outlet Al Araby Al Jadid, she was brought to the Makassed Hospital in Beirut before dying of injuries sustained from the gunshot wound and her subsequent fall to the ground.

Several Arabic-language media outlets shared surveillance camera footage of the clash, which was between drug dealers in the camp. The Shatila camp was created in 1949 for refugees from northern Palestine and is run by UNRWA, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The principal instigators of the violence in the camp are armed Palestinian factions who were meant to guard the area and most of the clashes are related to drug trafficking.

“Since Wouroud’s death, I haven’t been able to stop thinking that could be me one day”

Magda (not her real name) is Palestinian. She lives right by the entrance to Shatila, near the street where Wouroud Kanju was shot. She says life is close to unbearable in this camp, which has already experienced the extreme trauma of the Lebanese Civil War and a massacre.
 
There is a long history of violent incidents in the camp. But in the past ten years or so, with the arrival of Syrian refugees and a new wave of Palestian refugees, the gunshots – and, thus, the deaths – have increased.
It’s really hard to live our daily lives in this context. Everybody is afraid for their friends and family members, especially those who have to work outside the camp and have to go in and out of the camp frequently.

Sometimes, when I leave the camp in the morning, everything is calm. But by the time I come back, the situation has escalated and I don’t know if I’ll make it back to my home alive. That’s what happened to Wouroud. Since her death, I haven’t been able to stop thinking that could have been me. To imagine that could happen to me one day as well.

“This is Ariha Street. This is where we hear about someone or other dying (...) No one controls this street anymore. We call it the street of death (…) Here’s the Hangar of shame. It’s the source of our woes and the murders. There have been more than 15 deaths here,” says the person who made this video, which was posted on June 8, the day after Kanjou was killed. The “Hangar” in question was burned down in July 2019, but drug trafficking quickly picked up again.

All the residents of Shatila, whether they are refugees or workers, have been calling on Lebanese and Palestinian authorities for years to take radical action against the illegal trade of drugs and weapons in the camp, a trade that has resulted in untold civilian deaths.

The day after Kanju was killed, residents of Shatila marched through the streets in protest, calling for a permanent security presence in the camp and a major operation against those involved in the illegal trafficking. 

This protest calling for a crackdown on the drug and arms dealers who make Shatila camp unsafe was held on June 7.
 

This child is now an orphan. Because of who? The dealers and those who protect them (…) He (the child) will hold you to account one day!” cries the person who filmed this video during the protest. In the video, you can see the victim’s young child. 
 

“We need to fight the trafficking happening in the camp”

Hassan Bakir is the head of communication for the Palestinian Fatah movement in Beirut. He says that action in the camp is long overdue.
 
Shatila is a hotspot for drug traffickers in Beirut. At least 15 deaths have occurred on Ariha Street in the past decade. In 2016, the Palestinian factions who run the camps in Lebanon together created a special committee to tackle this trafficking.

But very often, the Lebanese army doesn’t lock up these criminals or they pay a bribe to get out. We need to fight this by bringing together the different Palestinian factions in the camp [Editor’s note: A total of 17 Palestinian factions run the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon]. Right now, all of these factions protect their supporters or avoid arresting traffickers for fear of conflict. This has created a situation of total chaos.
 
Security forces launched an operation on June 7 targeting traffickers in the camp.

In Lebanon, there are about 31.9 guns per 100 residents, which is a high rate. For Bakir, the high level of violence is linked to an extremely high rate of unemployment amongst Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
 
Palestinians in Lebanon are barred from practising 72 different professions, including engineering and medicine. That leaves many Palestinians without work. In order to provide for themselves and their families, they turn to a market that is happening right outside their front doors and doesn’t require papers or authorisation: drug and weapons trafficking.

Several organisations have called for an investigation into Kanju’s death. However, for the time being, only prosecutor Ghassan Aouidat has released a statement calling for an investigation.

Article by Fatma Ben Hamad.