Amita stands amid the rubble of her home in Beirut | Photo: Lorenzo Trombetta/ANSA
Amita stands amid the rubble of her home in Beirut | Photo: Lorenzo Trombetta/ANSA

In the shantytown of Karantina in Beirut, immigrants and the poor remain without aid. Some are still trapped amid the rubble of the area's buildings that were devastated by the fury of the port's explosion on August 4.

Amita is wearing a pink T-shirt as she walks around the rubble of her home. She is a 33-year-old woman from Bangladesh and, like many other Bangladeshi migrants, she makes a living by cleaning houses in Beirut. 


But here in Karantina, a very poor shantytown overlooking the port destroyed on August 4, Amita is known as the "mayor". She knows everybody and tries to solve the neighborhood's problems. 

She shows us the buildings that were devastated the most in the explosion last Tuesday: only a couch has survived in her home. Two small buildings nearby have been reduced to a pile of bricks. A sign warns: "risk of collapse".

Karantina hosts the poorest residents of Beirut: Lebanese, Syrians, Bangladeshis, Indians, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Sri Lankans who all have in common extreme poverty and few prospects. 

A district forgotten by rescuers 

The air is filled with smoke from parts of the port still burning and the distinct smell of the slaughterhouse that has employed the area's residents for years. A landfill where Beirut's waste is taken every day is two steps away. 

Environmentalists say the area is among the unhealthiest in all of Lebanon. A building is decorated with a huge piece of graffiti artwork depicting a colorful gas mask.

Karantina's story is Beirut's story: it was created in 1815 as a quarantine area (which explains the name in Arabic) to host travelers who arrived at the port, which was gaining importance as a hub connecting Syria and Europe. The neighborhood has so far been forgotten by rescue efforts and the help of volunteers that have instead focused on the city center. 

The port's tower cranes that survived the explosion can be seen from the area. A cat drinks from a dirty puddle. A boy who was wounded in the arm and shoulder sits nearby, looking at his cell phone. 

The multi-ethnic population of Karantina 

Karantina is also the location of a Palestinian massacre in 1976, when Christian militias killed hundreds of refugees in multiple attacks. Some sources say up to 1,500 people were killed. The Palestinians arrived in 1948 following the creation of Israel. 

Karantina also hosted the Iraqi Kurds who had fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And before them, between 1915 and 1922, it welcomed the Armenians fleeing massacres in Turkey. Seven years ago, the district became a shelter for the thousands of Syrians who fled the civil war in Syria. 

The public hospital in Karantina has been devastated by the explosion. One of its wings, which has been destroyed, was set up at the end of the 1990s, thanks to aid provided by the Italian government. 

A depot of the health ministry stocking medicines for cancer patients used to stand beside the hospital. It was also destroyed by the explosion. 

The district's Ottoman-era mosque, already partially destroyed during Lebanon's civil war, has also been damaged.

Amita continues to walk through the area's buildings. She asks the families who have remained if they need anything. 

Meanwhile, two youths can be seen as they walk through the rubble. A young man carrying the Lebanese flag walks away to attend a protest against the Lebanese government.
 

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