Outside Lebanon, Shatila is probably the best known of all the Palestinian camps because of the 1982 massacre in which an estimated 2400 people were killed. The camp, a long-term refugee camp for Palestinian refugees, set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1949, is situated in a poor area of Beirut that was badly damaged during the civil war.
Originally hosting hundreds of refugees, it has grown to more than 12,000 registered Palestinian refugees. Many of these refugees may live outside the camp, while non-Palestinians also live in the camp. The entire camp comprises approximately one square kilometer and thus has an exceptionally high population density. The crisis in Syria continues to take a devastating toll on the civilian population in Lebanon. The large influx of Palestinian refugees from Syria and Syrian refugees into Palestinian communities in Lebanon has sparked heavy competition in the camps and gatherings. Officially Shatila itself has grown to 22,000 inhabitants, most probably the actual numbers are close to 30,000 people.
Much of the camp and surrounding area are still in ruins, making it difficult to identify the official camp boundaries. Some of the shelters in and around Shatila appear to be worse than any found in the other official camps in Lebanon. These small shelters constructed from slabs of concrete, pieces of cardboard, corrugated iron and plastic sheets appear temporarily although people have lived in them for many years. Since at least the mid 1990s it has been recognized that only about half of the population of Shatila is Palestinian, the rest are from other Arab countries, mainly Syria and Lebanon. In an attempt to promote tolerance and understanding, the kindergarten is open to all children living in Shatila.