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Home > Issue 23: Democratic Formation in Palestine Periodic Reports (8) & (9) >

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon (2)

by As'ad Abd El-Rahman

Part II

Examples of the Refugees Suffering:

In order to acquaint the reader with the suffering of the refugees in Lebanon, we present the following details pertaining to a number of fields:

  1. In the field of health

Palestinian refugees rely almost totally on UNRWA for healthcare. Although the Palestinian Red Crescent Society provides some services, these are limited due to its limited capabilities and the conditions under which it functions, especially since the PLO left Lebanon in 1982.

UNRWA runs medical clinics in the camps, with each physician dealing with an average of 14 patients per hour. The clinics operate in the morning shifts only and overall, the role of doctors is limited to basic examination and analysis. In some cases, they treat patients based on the question and answer method of diagnosis without resorting to giving the patient a full examination or laboratory testing.

UNRWA contracts some private hospitals to treat those patients who need to be hospitalized as third class patients at relatively low cost. Patients normally have to wait a long time before they receive any treatment. UNRWA covers only a small percentage of the cost of treating serious and costly diseases and specialized tests. Moreover, it does not cover the hospitalization costs of patients over the age of 60.

It should be noted that the residents of the camps complain of open sewers and sewage spilling out over the ground, drinking water that is contaminated by the dirty water and the landfill accumulating at the outskirts of the camp.

  1. In the field of education

Palestinian refugees studying in schools form 12.5 percent of the Palestinian population in Lebanon the dropout rate increases at the secondary stage, as UNRWA does not provide secondary education.

Due to the fact that UNRWA does not provide a sufficient number of school buildings to absorb students, the schools operate according to the two-shift system. Nevertheless, the classrooms remain overcrowded. UNRWA has also stopped providing students with stationery. Nearly half the UNRWA schools are rented buildings that lack the basic facilities found in regular schools. Two years ago, UNRWA started imposing school fees on every student and stopped paying the allocated sum that it used to pay for every student who continued his or her secondary education. Three years ago, however, it began to consider, due to the pressure exerted by the refugees, a plan to establish secondary schools in the region. The plan, which is being implemented very gradually, has to date only succeeded in allowing for the absorption of a small percentage of students.

For all the previous reasons, in addition to the deteriorating economic situation, the inclination of students to engage in vocational training increases. UNRWA however owns only one vocational institute and no more than 30 percent of those who apply to join it are accepted.

University education is of no concern to UNRWA, except in some very rare cases when it is granted assistance by certain donor countries.

  1. In the economic field

The economic situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is pitiful. They are denied their most basic needs as stated in Arab and international human rights charters and covenants. According to reports published in 1996, the per capita income of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is no more than US$60 per month. As for the ratio of extreme poverty, it is the highest amongst all Palestinian refugees living in host countries.

This tragic situation can be ascribed to several factors, the most important of which are the laws and restrictions imposed on the refugees by the state, the denial of their civil rights, the right to work, and special social welfare, as well as the shrinking and deteriorating UNRWA services, the repercussions of the second Gulf War, which was accompanied by the expulsion of Palestinians from the Gulf, the situation of the Lebanese economy and the high level of inflation and unemployment, and the decrease in the PLO s contribution to improving their living conditions. Other reasons include certain laws imposed by the Lebanese Government, especially the law pertaining to the holders of Lebanese documents who are obliged to obtain a six-month visa whenever they want to leave Lebanon and return and the hardships that those who stay outside Lebanon face when they want to renew their travel documents.

  1. In the social field

The political and economic conditions on the one hand and the consecutive wars to which the camps have been subjected on the other have together created serious social problems, the most prominent of which are the following:

A. The displaced: Some refugee camps were subjected to total or partial destruction, forcing their residents to leave. The refugees occupied shelters and what existed of incomplete buildings or the remains of partially destroyed ones and lived in appalling unhealthy conditions. A ministry for the displaced was established to take care of them and to provide those whose homes had been destroyed with compensation and housing.

B. Immigration: The difficult living conditions facing the Palestinians in Lebanon force some of them to immigrate to Western countries where they face other kinds of social problems.

C. Illiteracy: The illiteracy rate increased greatly from the second half of the eighties onwards for the following reasons:

  • Dropout: The fertility rate among Palestinians is high, which has resulted in a large number of children leaving school and joining the labor market. The education system does not take into account the psychological state of the children, who are brought up in an atmosphere characterized by hostility and displacement, which has an acute effect on their behavior and their ability to comprehend. Consequently, a large number become troublemakers, fail repeatedly, and finally drop out of school all together.
  • Martyrs families: The many who were killed in the various wars and battles left behind a large number of children, which forced many women to join the workforce. The children of such women were left with no alternative care; they go out to play in the streets without protection and consequently are vulnerable to social problems.
  • Early marriage: This is one of the negative phenomena resulting from the low level of social awareness and the desire on the part of some families to rid themselves of the burden of taking care of a girl and reduce the number of family members.

UNRWA extends very little assistance to what are referred to as social cases , i.e., refugees suffering from acute hardship. These cases include families that cannot support themselves and cover the cost of their basic needs, such as food and housing.

  1. In the cultural field

In the post-Nakba (1948 catastrophe) era, the rate of educated people and those who attained higher education certificates among the Palestinians increased. It should be noted that attaining the certificate is seen as a way of improving one s living conditions. The cultural life in the camps was also activated in an unprecedented manner due to the presence of the PLO and other Palestinian factions. Among the features of the said cultural life were the following:

  • There was a large increase in the number of academic and vocational graduates from universities in various counties that granted scholarships to Palestinians.
  • A number of research and study centers contributed to various books and publications and to preparing researchers and authors.
  • Some media institutions became very prominent, as did a number of brilliant media people.
  • The Palestinian folkloric heritage was revived under the sponsorship of the PLO and Palestinian factions.
  • Various cultural clubs and centers were opened.

Following the Israeli invasion in 1982 and the departure of the Palestinian leadership from Lebanon, the basic features pertaining to the many cultural activities were eliminated.

Many of the Palestinians in Lebanon have been forced to immigrate to European countries as a result of the restrictions they face. Some of these countries have provided them with facilities but with the aim of weakening their case and disbursing them. In some cases, certain European countries tried to send the refugees back to Lebanon, which refused to receive them.


The conditions of the Palestinians in Lebanon require careful follow up and attention in respect to the various aspects. This entails taking a step that can guarantee the alleviation of their suffering. We regard the assistance being extended by Palestinian institutions and departments as well as other Palestinian, Arab, and other parties as being very positive. Nevertheless, the need to concentrate the efforts and take practical steps to alleviate the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees has become urgent. Among these steps are the following:

  • Contacting all concerned parties in a bid to lessen the restrictions and measures imposed on the Palestinians in Lebanon.
  • Coordinating all efforts related to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon through or in cooperation with the Refugees Affairs Department.
  • Enhancing the role carried out by the Institution of Martyrs, Injured and Prisoners and increasing the support given to it to enable it to continue.
  • Strengthening the role of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, raising its allocations and activating its services in Lebanon.
  • Preparing a special budget through the Refugees Affairs Department for projects to be adopted with UNRWA assistance.
  • Turning the Special Assistance Program into an emergency program that allows for identifying the most needy families.

The arbitrary conditions and the colonialist forces that were behind the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland are mainly responsible for their misery and suffering. However, the terrible circumstances facing the refugees were made worse by certain factors in some host countries, such as Lebanon. It is noticed that the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are still being imposed, in spite of the fact that there is now a peace process in existence whilst most of the PLO forces and capabilities have been expelled from Lebanon.

Source: ATF Shu‘un Tanmawyyeh Issue 23

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