In southern Beirut, a temporary shelter has become a permanent home. The Shatila refugee camp was established to house displaced Palestinians in 1949 and now has thousands of families within its walls. Residents have learnt to contend with overcrowding, pollution — and a steady stream of well-funded foreign researchers who come to study them.
Drawn by its unusual story and convenient position close to the airport, researchers flock to Shatila to track the effects of prolonged refugee status and cultural isolation on the community. Well-meaning researchers are so common in Shatila that locals have learnt how to spot them.
Before she became a social anthropologist at King’s College London, Mayssoun Sukarieh did voluntary work in Shatila. Residents who saw her reach for her notebook would ask if she was a social researcher: “They come for a tiny bit, and then they leave,” the locals explained.