Palestinians Refugees in Lebanon
Overview on the status and experience of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
I- History of Displacement
Like other Palestinian refugee communities in the region Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon was generated at large before and shortly after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. While the founding of Israel by the UN provided a Jewish ‘homeland’ for victimized Jews in Europe, it caused the dispersal of the Palestinian population out of their homeland and resulted in what is called ‘victim diaspora’.
It is indisputable that the Palestinian population who became refugees in Lebanon and other Arab countries did not flee voluntarily, but as a result of ethnic cleansing, forcible eviction, massacres, and threat and fear that they would be massacred.
Since their displacement in 1984 Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon was subjected to continuous homelessness and displacement from one camp or temporary shelter to another on account of the continuing Israeli invasions and incursions against Lebanon (1978, 1982, 1993, 1996), as well as because of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1991) including the ‘war of the camps’ launched against the camps by Amal militia (1985-1989) and Nahr el-Bared camp war (2007) launched by the Lebanese army against Fath el-Islam terrorist group and resulted in the destruction of the camp and in the displacement of its population.
II- Protection & Legal Status
It is well known that according to article 1D of the 1951 convention relating to refugee status, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon like the rest of Palestinian refugees residing in UNRWA areas of operations are excluded from the protection of UNHCR because they receive education, health and social services services from UNRWA.
In fact UNRWA does not have an explicit mandate to provide Palestinian refugees with legal protection in the sense existing in the UNHCR mandate. So the provision of the said services may be considered as a type of ‘relief protection ’which is not commensurate with general standards for refugee protection worldwide.
Despite their prolonged residence in Lebanon since 1948, Lebanese legislation treats Palestinian refugees as foreigners, rather as a “special category of foreigners.” So they lack provisions granting them any sort of preferred status.
Unlike those countries where citizenship rights are linked to permanent residency, in Arab countries including Lebanon nationality is the key to these rights; the right to citizenship serves as a primary right from which other rights and entitlements are derived.
This ambiguous situation deprives PRL of certain rights even enjoyed by foreigners under Lebanese law, such as the right to own property (new Law on Acquisition of Real Estate Rights by Foreigners No. 296 of 2001). It also deprives them of the refugees’ fundamental rights recognized by international law.
Thus there is a wide gap between the norms and standards concerning refugees in international law and those in Lebanese law. In order to fill this gap, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should be granted a stable legal status, distinguishing them from foreigners; and consequently Lebanese laws should be harmonized with international norms and standards regulating refugee’s rights worldwide.
III- Institutionalized Discrimination
There is a consensus among Lebanese about rejecting the permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, a consensus that is institutionalized in the Ta’if constitution. Permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon or even granting them a wide spectrum of basic human rights is perceived by many in the Lebanese elites as a step toward permanent settlement, which will upset the precarious sectarian balance on which the Lebanese system is based. Thus Palestinians in Lebanon now constitute a ‘disenfranchised minority’.
The demands of Palestinians in Lebanon for basic human rights do not include the right to citizenship. In other words, socioeconomic and cultural rights are envisaged by them as a sort of a temporary protection tool and a strategy for survival in a desperate situation without compromising the right of return which remains the ultimate, almost sacred, national goal.
VI- The impact of Lebanese Crisis on the livelihoods of PR
Lebanon is currently suffering from a multilayered economic, financial and monetary crisis, in addition to the Coved-19 pandemic. As a result the Lebanese economy is now in almost total collapse with more than half of the population living under the poverty line. Palestinian refugees are one of the most affected groups by the crisis.
What increasing their suffering is that they were already living a harsh condition before the current crisis exploded? It is worth recalling that a survey conducted in 2015 by UNRWA and the American University of Beirut (AUB) found that 65% of Palestinians in Lebanon lived below the poverty line, as compared to 35% for Lebanese, and that Palestinian unemployment had reached 56%.
Based on this data, analysis of economic trends, and the disproportionate effects of crises on marginalized communities, it is certain that Palestinian poverty and unemployment rates have been greatly increased since the 2015 survey. According to some estimates unemployment and poverty rates are currently close to the 80 percent.
Paradoxically, while socio-economic needs multiply due to the crisis we witness a decline in UNRWA services as a result of its ongoing financial crises, and this is accompanied by a decrease in the magnitude of the aid provided by PLO/ PA and the factions.
The UN system, the PLO, and civil society need to do more to support Palestinian refugees/Lebanon in confronting the compounded effects of the crises which impact them. Claudio Cordone, the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, recently declared: “We must help Palestine refugees in Lebanon weather yet another storm that could push them further to the brink of despair.”
The temporary protection of PRL and their day-to-day rights is a shared responsibility of the international community, represented by UNRWA, along with the host country (Lebanon), not excluding the POL/Palestinian Authority:
V- Conclusion & Recommendations
- In the short term, UNRWA must continue to issue emergency appeals to address immediate needs, including the launch of a year-long emergency relief project to cover the basic needs of Palestinian refugees suffering from these complex crises, and by calling on donors to include Palestinian refugees in emergency response plans for Lebanon.
- In the medium term, an economic and social safety net must be created to secure day-to-day protection for Palestinians’ rights in Lebanon, with the participation of UNRWA, the PLO, and key UN bodies such as UNICEF, UNDP, and WHO, all in coordination with the host country.
- The current and future Lebanese governments must adopt a responsible and transparent policy towards Palestinian refugees. Specifically, they must ensure that refugees are included in the urgent humanitarian aid that flows into Lebanon, in terms of food, medicine, healthcare, and other fields, and to do so in coordination with UNRWA.
Saida, 20 Jan. 2021
 Intervention in the webinar launching the report: “What is life like for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and what are sustainable solutions?”, edited by Rami Rmeileh & Hana Biberovic, under the supervision of the office of MEP Margrete Aken ( European Parliament), Brussels, 20 Jan 2021.