Palestinian officials warn of 'social explosion' in Lebanon if UNRWA cuts continue

Palestinian officials warn of 'social explosion' in Lebanon if UNRWA cuts continue
Palestinian security officials warned of a social breakdown and threats to Lebanon's security if UNRWA services stopped.
3 min read
21 February, 2024
Around 80 per cent of Palestinian refugees live below the poverty line in Lebanon. [Getty]

Palestinian officials have warned of a "social explosion" and a security breakdown in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon if funding to the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) is not restored.

More than a dozen donor countries, including the US and UK, suspended their funding to UNRWA after Israel alleged, without evidence, that a dozen of its employees participated in the 7 October surprise attack by Hamas on the Gaza envelope.

The UN agency suspended the employees and launched an independent investigation into the allegations – for which it said Israel has yet to provide it with the evidence.

UNRWA, which provides essential medical, educational and financial services to Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world, announced that its services could halt by the end of February if the funding suspension continues.

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If services do stop, social order could severely degrade in Palestinian refugee camps, Adnan Rifai, a member of the Palestinian Popular Committee in Lebanon, told TNA.

"There is no one that is going to replace UNRWA, not even Arab states. We don't have anything to replace the services. They haven't given us any choice except to starve," Rifai said.

Around 80 per cent of the some 270,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line. If cash assistance given by UNRWA halts, this number could rise to 93 per cent.

Palestinian refugees are restricted from working a wide swath of occupations in Lebanon, as well as face limitations on their ability to purchase housing legally.

UNRWA employs thousands of Palestinians, providing a key source of income for the already vulnerable group.

Demonstrations have been held in front of the UK and EU embassies in Beirut to protest the funding cuts for UNRWA – but donor states have remained bullish on the suspension.

Palestinian security officials have warned that further degradation of the already dire socioeconomic situation in the camps will have knock-on effects on the security of Lebanon as a whole.

Since Israel's military operation in Gaza started, Palestinian refugees have reportedly been signing up to fight alongside Palestinian forces in Lebanon in droves.

"This will impact the security of the country and in the camps. To be realistic, what will people do? This is why the Lebanese government is worried," Major General Munir al-Maqdah, the commander of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, told TNA.

Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, Ain el-Helweh, saw several weeks of intense gun battles in the summer of 2023 after Islamist factions clashed with Fatah security forces. Order was restored with a decision to deploy a joint Palestinian-Lebanese security force in the camp.

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Al-Maqdah said that while a cessation of UNRWA services would negatively impact the camp's social order, it would not renew tensions between factions within Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

He explained that Israel's military operation in Gaza has created more unity among factions that competed in the past.

"Our position is unified. The situation between the factions in the camps is united; we are all looking at what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank," Al-Maqdah said.