When it come to the type of tourism that Young Pioneer Tours do there are times when we get critiqued and visiting Mar Elias Refugee camp in Lebanon is one that could cause some controversy.
To read about if it safe to visit Lebanon click here.
What is Mar Elias Refugee Camp?
Located in the south-eastern part of Beirut the camp was originally founded, by Mar Elias no less in 1952 for Palestinian refugees fleeing from the conflict brimming from Arab and Israeli animosity
It is therefore one of the oldest refugee camps in Lebanon, but sadly not only far from the only one and indeed far from the biggest. Refugee camps now litter the Arab world with conflicts such as those in Yemen and particularly Syria in this case bolstering these numbers.
This conversely is much like the current situation with Venezuela and Colombia, where refugees used to go the other way, a fact during the Lebanese civil war.
Why the camp has lasted so long is a question that cannot be filled with a few sentences, but the ongoing conflict in Palestine and Syria coupled with the indifference of much of the world certainly plays a part in the plight.
Nowadays there are approximately 4000 people living in the camp, according to Karim, our local fixer who arranged the trip, with 2000 coming from Palletise and the rest other nations. This in spite of the fact that Lebanon having enormous troubles of its own truly shows the desperation that many refugees have to go through.
Why do you visit Mar Elias Refugee camp?
So to deal with the elephant in the room, why do we visit here? On the negative side, some have called it dark tourism, while others might even call it war, or voyeur tourism, the truth is much more nuanced.
To read the YPT view of Dark Tourism click here.
Dark Tourism in our mind gets a bad rap. If you visit Auschwitz, or the Killing Fields you are considered to be learning about the horrors of history, although these places are extremely dark.
In our experience at least people that want to visitt more contemporary places, be it Smoky Mountain in the Philippines, or Mar Elias Refugee camp do it because they have an interest in what is happening now to people and to learn about their lives and indeed how they might help. This is not dark tourism, this is compassionate tourism.
To read about Smoky Mountain in Manila click here.
So what do you do at a refugee camp?
Not being Angelina Jolie means we do not go to adopt kids en-masse, but to actually learn what it is like to live as a refugee. These camps now exist almost in their own eco-system, an eco-system where people try to survive while also preserving their culture.
Of course for many it is also a mere stop off point before many go off on the perilous journey usually across the med to Europe, where are we know many perish.
This is your chance to see an hear their story, a true education and one of the reasons people travel. Travel is an education and visiting a refugee camp is truey an education.
We also true to do some good while we are there, and on our last trip raised quite a lot of money, although not to give to the camp, but to buy the supplies they asked for, which at this point was school books and the like. As the people we met put it, they do not want hand outs, they want help.
And the view of the people we meet? “Please tell the world about our plight”, a point we are told in many of the places we visit and one hopefully our guests at least try to do.
You can join our next tour to Lebanon here.