Growing Up in a Graveyard

Several generations of families now live in the Al-Ghuraba due to a lack of affordable housing in Tripoli, with no solution in sight.

Growing Up in a Graveyard

Several generations of families now live in the Al-Ghuraba due to a lack of affordable housing in Tripoli, with no solution in sight.

Wednesday, 26 January, 2011

Fatima Al-Baarini, 23, has always lived among graves. But now that she is married with children, she wants her children to experience a happier childhood somewhere else.

An influx of poor people in the 1970s and 80 meant that many families, without the means to find proper residences, found themselves forced to settle in Al-Ghuraba, one of the city’s graveyards. Like many others, Baarini arrived in Tripoli with her family because there was so little employment in rural areas around the city.

Decades later, many people continue to reside in this cemetery, raising their children in makeshift homes with little hope of being relocated to decent residential areas.

“We have no money, no work,” Baarini said. “We can only afford to live in a cemetery.”

Today, there are around 187 families, or an estimated 1,000 people, living in dire conditions in and around Al-Ghuraba cemetery, according to a study carried out in 2010 by Tripoli’s municipality.

Al-Ghuraba’s children play around the graves. While some attend school, others work as delivery boys or as mechanic apprentices.

The study also revealed that because of a high birth rate, the number of people residing in the graveyard was increasing, with experts warning that living conditions are likely to worsen with time as the population grows.

Although there have been repeated attempts over the years to try to find alternatives for the families living here, local officials now seem to accept the situation. Some of the residents were able to install electricity meters in their homes in the cemetery after receiving a proof of residence stamped by the area’s local official.

A local official, Hazem Aysh, has proposed the creation of a residential complex in an area near the graveyard to relocate Al-Ghuraba families.

Aysh said that his proposal was based on extensive studies of the situations of the families and takes into consideration their low income. He stressed that the rents would be “symbolic”.

However, for this project to become a reality, it would have to be approved by a number of authorities, including the municipality of Tripoli, which could mean that it could take a long time before it is implemented.

According to Ahmad Tiba, the area’s local government representative, experts from Tripoli’s municipality carried out surveys in the graveyard early last year. This raised hopes among the inhabitants that they would receive compensation to move elsewhere. But no concrete steps have been taken by the municipality since then.

Meanwhile, many graveyard residents say they are not investing much hope in the government. Jamila Nasser, 62, who lives with her four children and seven grandchildren in a makeshift two-bedroom house with a tin roof, said, “We have a feeling of alienation even when we are here at home,” Nasser said. 

Support our journalists