Qalandia Refugee Camp was established by UNRWA in 1949 on land leased from the Jordanian government. The camp north of Jerusalem is set in the middle of four villages: a-Ram to the south, Mikhmas to the East, Kufr Aqab to the north, and Qalandia village to the west.
The camp was initially established to hold around 5,471 Palestinians who were displaced from some 52 villages in the Lydd, Ramleh, Haifa, Jerusalem and Hebron areas during the 1948 Nakba.2 Prior to moving to the camp, those refugees languished in makeshift camps near Ramallah and al-Bireh. In 2006, OCHA estimated the number of residents at 11,581.3 Today, according to Afaq Environmental Magazine, Qalandia Refugee Camp population has reached 14,000 residents.
Following Israel's occupation of the rest of Palestine in 1967, nearly 400 families (2,400 people) left the camp. For those who left the camp, it was a case of having to leave ‘home’ for the second time in less than 19 years. The 'refugee forced to become a refugee in another place’ is an experience which has characterized the Palestinian plight since 1948.
According to the Oslo Agreement, all of Qalandia Refugee Camp territory was classified as area “C”, where Israel retains full control over security and administration related to the territory; however, Qalandia camp, like other Palestinian refugee camps, is under the administrative control of UNRWA.5
The camp is marked by a high proportion of children under the age of 14. In fact, children under the age of 14 make up 41% of the population.6 The camp boasts a total of four UNRWA-run schools, two elementary and two preparatory schools, and one private school. In addition to the schools, there is also a kindergarten run under the auspices of the YMCA, which includes a medical clinic and a centre that provides training in tailoring and other professions. The camp also includes a nutrition centre and a UNRWA-run water distribution centre. The Jerusalem Electricity Company has extended its electricity provision to the camp.7
In 1959, the women of Qalandia founded the Qalandia Refugee Camp Women Programmes Centre: a women's cooperative which aims to empower women in Qalandia and other Palestinian camps. This was the first women’s organisation to be established in the camp, and it continues to actively support and empower women today. The cooperative took part in organizing the Women's Day protest on International Women's Day in 2012.8 The cooperative also seeks to provide women with training towards independence amidst the incredibly challenging circumstances of living under occupation as refugees within a largely patriarchal society.
The economy in Qalandia camp is dependent mainly on the employees sector which absorbs 31% of the camp’s workforce. A field survey conducted by ARIJ in 2012 showed that 31% of the workforce in Qalandia refugee camp works in the government or private sector, 23% in the trade Sector, 20% in the Israeli labour market, 12% in the service sector, 12% in industry and only 2% in the agricultural sector.9 There are over 100 businesses in the camp including stores, garages, bakeries, and electricians. The unemployment rate in 2012 was 40%.10
Lack of services
Even though 97% of Qalandia refugee camp households are connected to the sewage network, the lack of a public sewage system in the remaining 3% forces the residents to use unhygienic cesspits for the disposal of wastewater and to discharge wastewater in the streets. This is particularly common in winter as citizens cannot afford the high cost of sewage tankers during this period.11
In addition, there is a lack of a central sanitary landfill to serve Qalandia camp and other neighbouring communities. This is largely because Israeli occupation authorities make it exceedingly difficult for local and national institutions to establish a legal landfill.12
Violence and repression
The Israeli army systematically raids the refugee camp due to its proximity to the checkpoint and the camp's engagement in the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. In August 26, 2013, three Palestinian young people, all unarmed, were killed by Israeli occupation forces after it raided the camp at dawn and used live fire against unarmed residents.13 In August 2011, and during the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, two Palestinians were killed when the Israeli army invaded the camp.14
It is also the site of many popular protests for dignity and liberation. In recent years, most of those protests have been the target of brutal Israeli crackdown. The generous residents of Qalandia never hesitate to turn their homes into shelter for protesters fleeing Israeli army violence. This makes them the target of collective punishment by the Israeli army that also occupies the rooftops to snipe demonstrators.