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Palestinian’s – Second Class Refugees in Lebanon

PALESTINIAN REFUGEES FROM SYRIA – Since 2011, an estimated 45,000 Palestinians Refugees (PRS) who are fleeing the violence in Syria have arrived in Lebanon, the largest influx arriving in 2013 as the crisis intensified. The current situation echo’s the exile of their parent’s generation; Palestinian families are being forced to flee for the second time since 1948. Palestinians had built a vibrant community in Syria, where they were granted rights to work, own businesses and access civil services. They now find themselves in significantly worse living circumstances. Lebanon’s generosity and limited resources continue to be stretched as the country struggles to host refugees from Syria who now account for a quarter of the country’s population (1.1 million source-UNHCR). PRS are a particularly vulnerable sub-population who are subject to a number of unique discriminatory laws.

The United Nations Response

The United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) is the UN agency that is mandated to provide assistance to Palestinians refugees. On this premise, PRS are denied registration with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that is granted to other refugees from Syria. Detrimentally, UNWRA’s mandate does not provide urgent aid and assistance. Despite persistent efforts, UNWRA is unable to providea level of assistance to PRS that UNHCR grant the wider Syrian refugee population. Furthermore, UNRWA’s resources have been so heavily exhausted that the housing assistance (US 100 per family) ceased in April 2015.  At least 90% of PRS in Lebanon rely on UNRWA assistance as their primary source of income. UNWRA are unable to continue to meet the basic human needs of this population. UNRWA will continue to provide US27 per person for food assistance, however, many families cannot afford the transport costs to collect these modest entitlements. An increasing number of families are now relying on the generosity of other poor refugee families to sustain them.

No Legal Status

PRS have separate visa requirements and further restrictions have been placed on them since May 2014. Although only 3% entered the country irregularly, the majority of PRS now exist without valid legal status. The complexities and costs of renewing their ‘papers’ are prohibitive to the majority of families. As a result, the population is acutely vulnerable and without basic social protection. Many reported that their mobility is severely affected due to a fear of arrest, detention and deportation, some are too afraid to leave the camps. Furthermore, without civil registration, Palestinians from Syria are unable to register births, deaths and marriages, leaving a whole generation without legal documentation of their existence.

Insecure Housing

Perhaps the biggest concern for PRS is lack of appropriate housing. Severe overcrowding is an issue with 74% of households accommodating more than 10 people. In some instances, there are upwards of 20 people living in a room. A third of families are unable to afford basic necessities such as water, electricity and gas. The high cost of rent has exhausted their savings and is driving more and more families into homelessness and the pre-existing Palestinian camps across Lebanon.

Prior to the Syrian crisis there were upwards of 260,000 longstanding Palestinian refugees living in 12 refugee camps across Lebanon. Therecent arrival ofPRS in these camps is placing further strain and tension on the existing population,who were already suffering from high rates of poverty, overcrowding and unemployment.

The Right to Work 

There are severe limitations on employment for Palestinians in Lebanon, they are denied the right to work in some 25 professions and are restricted from owning their own businesses. Only 8% PRS have employment. Harsh restrictions on the job market further marginalise this already vulnerable community.

Education is Key

Children who fled Syria have been witness to horrific violence and are suffering from untreated psychological trauma thataffects their ability to successfully engage in education. The differences in the Lebanese school curriculum also impacts on the refugee children’s ability to integrate into Lebanese schools, for example, math and science are taught in Arabic in Syria and English in Lebanon. 40% of PRS children between the ages of 6 and 18 have discontinued their education and 74% of families have at least one child who is not in education. In some cases, children are forced into early employment in order to help support their families to meet their basic needs such as shelter and food.

Health & Food Security

There is a severe lack of food and hunger has become a major issue. A common practice is for parents to go for days without food so that their children may eat. A Palestinian refugee at Nahr El Bared camp describes the situation like this ‘For$10 in Syria, I could feed my whole family of eight for the whole day. In Lebanon, it is barely enough for a meal’.

The few health care providers that assist PRS are overwhelmed with the increase in demand. Deteriorating health conditions areprevalent amongst PRS. 50% of families have a seriously injured or sick person and 1 in 10 families count a family member with a disability. Furthermore, 47% have at least one member suffering from a chronic illness.

A Call for Help

ALPHA Association calls on the Lebanese Government, The United Nations and the International community to respond to this crisis and to ensure that PRS do not become the forgotten victims of the Syrian war. This sub- population has received much less international attention than the wider Syrian refugee population. PRS are acutely vulnerable and the international donor community mustmobilise resources to respond to this humanitarian emergency. With further cuts to UNWRA’s cash assistance to PRS families their situation is becoming increasingly volatile. PRS require an urgent injection of funds in order to secure their basic needs and provide them with the means to live a life of dignity amongst the turmoil and uncertainty of yet another displacement.

By Leila Wheib, October 2015


Picture : http://nna-leb.gov.lb/ – Palestinian refugees in Tyre protest UNRWA decision to postpone school year –  Aug 2015