The Shatila refugee camp was set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross in order to accomodate the refugees that came to Lebanon from the northern villages of Palestine during the war of 1948.
It is sadly known for the slaughter of thousands of civilians by the Christian phalangist militia on 1982 during the Lebanese Civil war.

Actually, since the eruption of the Syrian civil war in 2011, with the Lebanon’s population swelled by more than 1 million Syrian refugees, the camp has also swollen with refugees, receiving mostly the poorest Syrians. The camp rises between Ghobeiry, a shiite neighborhood of the Southern suburbs, and the sunni stronghold of Tariq el Jdide, and it is characterized by an exceptionally high population density and by extremely bad environmental and health conditions.

The vast majority of the 400000 Palestinian refugees who were born in Lebanon are second class citizens. This adverse condition appears to be a deliberate strategy to keep the Palestinians apart from the Lebanese population, so as not to be able to assimilate.

Only a small fraction of them have acquired the Lebanese citizenship: although 60000 were granted citizenship in 1994, after the war, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians remain stateless and are treated as foreigners, without the basic social and economic rights (they have no rights of property ownership, investment or employment -they are excluded from more than 72 professions-).

Restrictions on building and reconstruction in the camps contribute to the insecurity of Palestinians in Lebanon, forcing them to live in semi or totally destroyed buildings, since rebuilding is strictly and legally controlled.
This situation is the result of the country’s sectarian structure. Most of Lebanese citizens are members of one of three communities: the sunni community, the shiite community and the christian community, although the country is less divided today than it was in 1991, in the aftermath of the 15 years long civil war. The fact that the Palestinian refugees are mostly sunni muslims means that if they were totally integrated they would upset the delicate confessional balance.

The government worries also for the continued presence of armed militias inside the camps, because they represent a potential for instability, threatening to re-enact the civil war days.

In order to give a contribution to the comprehension of such a complex theme, I’ve decided to give the project a structure based on two levels. The first level consists of a series of descriptive large format 4x5 images, realized from an high point of view, which has the aim of placing the theme within a spatial context. Through the observation of these images the extreme population density, the fact that the houses are literally built one on another, emerges as the fundamental matter of fact.

The ground level, in addition to specifying the meaning of the large- format images, with its almost frozen environments is furthermore a metaphor of a situation that, created in 1948 as a temporary, has become final and has condemned the Palestinians to live in a limbo since which they are a long way from finding a way out.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive