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A Report on the Psychological Effects of Overcrowding in Refugee Camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

Source: Prepared for the Expert and Advisory Services Fund - International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

by Dr. Randa Farah
April 2000

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the Expert and Advisory Services Fund which is administered by the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada and financially supported by the Canadian International Development Agency in cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.


Objective, Structure and Approach
This report is based on a visit to refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, between the 3 rd and 23 rd of November, 1999. It is a follow-up to Mona Marshy's literature review on the social and psychological effects of overcrowding in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza and in which Marshy recommended a field visit to validate her findings. Consequently, this report is the result of visits to various camps, interviews with various social segments of the refugee community, including visits to their homes and discussions with volunteer community workers and representatives of international governmental organizations (IGOs) and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Furthermore, the report assesses the pervasiveness of the effects of overcrowding and provides recommendations as to which areas require the greatest attention. Finally, it is important to emphasize that this report addresses policy-makers and donor countries to help them formulate policies, identify priorities, plan and support relevant projects in refugee camps.

The paper is divided into five main sections. Section II provides a general and brief overview of the camps in the West Bank and Gaza and gives background on the context in which the issue of overcrowding is discussed. The third (III) section deals with the causes of overcrowding, mainly as identified and seen through the eyes of refugees, various individuals and local community leaders and groups who provide services to refugees, as well as the observations of the writer of this report. The fourth (IV) section discusses the main social and psychological effects of overcrowding, the services that are currently provided and the gaps that need to be addressed (For a complete listing of the organizations, their services and addresses, please refer to Marshy's study). This is followed by a section on priorities and recommendations (V). The last section (VI) summarizes the issues and gives quotes taken during the field interviews, giving a sense of the problem as expressed by refugees and workers in the camps.

The duration of the field visit was twenty days, fifteen of which were spent in the West Bank and five in the Gaza Strip. The camps were heterogeneous in terms of their location, number of inhabitants and administrative status. A number of techniques were used to get an in-depth understanding of the problems of overcrowding. The tools and sources of research included:

  • General data and statistics from various studies
  • Formal and informal interviews
  • Recording of narratives and histories
  • Observation and visits to various camps in the West Bank and Gaza
  • Visits to refugee families, schools, health clinics and community centres

(Please refer to Annex I for the names of camps visited and subjects interviewed.)

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