Palestinians refugees suffer wherever they go

Palestinians refugees suffer wherever they go
Comment: Palestinian refugees who escaped the Syria war are now living in Lebanon in appalling conditions under discriminatory laws and lack international support, says Sahdya Darr.
4 min read
01 Apr, 2015
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are living in difficult conditions [AFP]
In a recent report published by the Lebanese NGO the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (also known as Witness), experts from the organisation described the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as "becoming more fragile". They attributed this to the poor quality of basic services and institutionalised legal discrimination against Palestinians living in the country.

The presence of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has always been a highly sensitive political issue. Before the conflict in Syria, Lebanon hosted 455,000 Palestinian refugees, that made up approximately 10 percent of the population. The new wave of Palestinian refugees seeking refuge in Lebanon has exacerbated what was an already dire situation for those already living there.

According to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria's (AGPS) Documentary Report for the Situation of Palestinian Refugees in Syria, there are 51,300 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who have been uprooted by the Syrian war. Palestinian refugees now account for 22 percent of the Lebanese population.
     Palestinian refugees now account for 22 percent of the Lebanese population.

At the beginning of last year, the Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati declared that  "Lebanon was no longer able to cope on its own". 

Mikati called on international leaders to act on the commitments they had made to help tackle the humanitarian crisis. However, his plea for help fell on deaf ears and at the end of 2014 Lebanon closed its borders to Palestinian Syrian refugees.

Along with Turkey, it has shouldered the biggest burden of the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict in Syria.

Most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon completely depend on the humanitarian aid provided by the UNRWA agency. The failure of the international community to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue has meant that the UN General Assembly has repeatedly voted to renew UNRWA's mandate, and has asked for its humanitarian mandate to be extended to provide humanitarian assistance to those not meeting UNRWA's definition of a Palestinian refugee.

However, UNRWA, which is reliant on donations from UN member states, is currently facing serious problems. The Syrian crisis has placed it under huge strain.

As well as the staggering humanitarian crisis, Palestinians are also suffering because of discriminatory policies against them. They have been politically marginalised, denied basic social and economic rights, and forced to live in squalid camps with limited and insufficient resources. In 2010, UNRWA launched the 'Dignity for All' campaign to draw attention to the challenges faced by Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.

Most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in the country's 12 official refugee camps. However, Lebanon's political parties are not building new camps to accommodate the surge of Palestinian refugees from Syria and are reluctant to expand existing camps.

They have also refrained from improving the conditions within camps in an effort to remind Palestinian refugees of the temporary nature of their presence in Lebanon.

As a result, the camps have become densely overpopulated with the addition of many Palestinian refugees from Syria who rely on the charity of family members who were already based in Lebanon.

Makeshift camps have been set up in the Bekaa Valley, and on unfinished construction sites as well as in mosques and schools.

Some Palestinian refugees from Syria have even moved in with Lebanese families. They have not been afforded "refugee" status but are categorised as "guests", preventing them from getting refugee assistance.

     Lebanon is not building new camps to accommodate the surge of Palestinian refugees and are reluctant to expand existing camps.

In 2013, a delegation of members from the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) and the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) visited Lebanon to investigate and report on the treatment of Palestinian refugees from Syria living there.

They revealed a lack of social and civil rights, including limited access to basic services such as accommodation, medical care, employment and education - a direct consequence of their limited legal status.

Lebanon was experiencing a shortage of affordable housing before the Syrian crisis. However, the situation has been aggravated by large numbers of refugees looking for accommodation and pushing up rents. Members of the CEPR delegation and the Director of UNRWA in Lebanon, Ann Dismorr, called on the Lebanese government to monitor rent extortionists and cap rents.

Regarding education, it was only last week that the AGPS reported that Palestinian refugees from Syria in Lebanon had repeated their request to the Lebanese Ministry of Higher Education to allow them to register for the official exams.

They were supported by Hamas' Refugee Affairs Office in Lebanon, which issued a statement calling on the Lebanese government to resolve the status of Palestinian Syrians in Lebanon, and treat them as refugees and not "guests".

To alleviate the suffering of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon the international community needs to provide help to manage the Syrian refugee crisis. Lebanese authorities also need to end its discriminatory policies against Palestinian refugees, and offer them the protection they deserve.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.