The Palestinian Situation in Lebanon


Most of the Palestinian refugees currently residing in Lebanon fled the north of Palestine in 1948 to seek temporary refuge. After 55 years in exile, the Palestinians continue to live 'temporarily' in the 12 official UNRWA refugee camps, as well as many unofficial camps in Lebanon. With promises of settlements and return leading nowhere, children and now grandchildren of the 1948 refugees have been born and raised in substandard levels of housing, education, health and social services Due to the fear of permanent settlement of the 380 000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, domestic laws have been designed to ensure that Palestinians have few civil rights. For example, the Palestinians in Lebanon are neither allowed by law to work in over 70 professions, nor to own or inherit property. Even those Palestinians who were born and have had children in Lebanon are denied citizenship, or at least basic civil rights. The Palestinians in Lebanon have no political or governmental representation and thus no standardized social and health services. Moreover, UNRWA provides only minimal health care and educational services for registered Palestinian refugees. Their services – which hardly cover the base needs of the population – are continually being downsized, while the population of the refugees in Lebanon continues to increase This situation of poor education, few job opportunities, and meager social and health services has left Palestinian NGOs carrying the weight of their communities' needs. NGOs operate in all health and social service areas, and are often the sole source of support for their population. Palestinian organizing is illegal in Lebanon, which leaves the NGOs reliant on international funding for their projects. Without any government services available to the Palestinian people, long term support is necessary for social and health services to continue responding to community needs


Under the Current 'Road Map'

The possibility of return or resettlement of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon raises important questions for NGOs operating in the camps. As the Palestinian population has been living in isolated conditions for 59 years, the successful integration of the Palestinian people into outside communities is of utmost importance, yet will not happen without groundwork being laid. WHO has highlighted 3 basic programs that will strengthen the skills and adaptability of the Palestinian people

Education: Through leadership and democracy training programs WHO works to build a participatory educational structure, where children, youth and adults take an active role in their education. Literacy courses, after school tutoring, summer educational activities, as well as skill-building workshops aim to constantly improve the education and group initiatives of the camp community

Peer Support Group and Informal Counseling: WHO is planning to implement a women's group, in order to provide space and support for women of the community. The aim of the Support Group is to allow women to come together and discuss common problems and break their isolation. Through informal counseling and communal skill sharing, the women will increase their problem-solving skills not only within the camp, but in interactions outside the camp environment. Ultimately, the Support Group aims to equip women with the skills to live in a new environment in the case of resettlement

Health Services to the Elderly and Disabled: Ninety-six percent of the elderly in Bourj al Barajneh suffer from chronic health problems. With no community nursing, physiotherapy or home care programs, WHO works to provide the necessary domestic nursing, physiotherapy and rehabilitation services. UNRWA's budget does not allow for education surrounding care for chronic illness, so WHO additionally educates the elderly and their care givers to better cope with their illness


Note: WHO does not regularly provide Vocational Training, unless a needed skill has been indentified and employment is possible, as the Palestinians in Lebanon are not permitted to work in over 70 professions. As vocational programs are generally evaluated on their post-graduation employment rates, they are not our priority for sustainable community development

The Women’s Humanitarian Organisation (WHO) is a non-profit organisation registered with the Lebanese government. It was established in 1993 with a specific purpose to serve the women and children living in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Its goals are to address the needs of the most underprivileged through the provision of health services and training and to provide skills and vocational training for women in order to generate income for the entire family. WHO has a Management Committee, responsible to the Board, comprising representatives of Palestinian organisations in the camp who are responsible for the day to day running of the program and the implementation of the decisions of the Board

After 59 years of exile, Palestinians living in Lebanon continue to be explicitly and systematically deprived of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and liberties

Right to Employment
Lebanese laws (resolution 621/1, decree 6812 of 1995, and decree 17561 of 1964) clearly restrict foreigners from working over 70 professions in Lebanon. Only 1% of the Palestinians in Lebanon manage to secure the mandatory work permit required by the Lebanese government, in order to benefit from regular jobs.1
Thus, the majority of Palestinians are forced to work illegally, and in unskilled labor, mostly in manual, irregular and daily – either paid, or in petty commerce in the camps. The average individual income (44$) is a quarter of the Lebanese minimum wage (161$).2
UNRWA has estimated that 60% of Palestinians in Lebanon live below the poverty line. Other studies have indicated that proportions have risen to 80%, with 56% living in extreme poverty.2
Because living conditions are so poor, many young people give up school to work illegally, in order to secure income for their families.3

Right to Adequate Housing
Recent passing by Parliament of revisions to the law concerning ownership of property by foreigners has lead to a new level of exclusion, by forbidding "anyone who does not have citizenship in a recognized state" from owning property. Though not named explicitly, Palestinians are clearly targeted by this roundabout phrasing. The family of those Palestinians who already own property, moreover, do not have inheritance rights.4
The number of Palestinians in Lebanon has tripled; due to demographic growth and Palestinians returning from the Gulf States (especially Kuwait during the Gulf War of 1991). Because of unemployment and restricted access to work, most Palestinians have no choice but to live concentrated together in refugee camps.1
No new camps have been allowed to be built since the war of 1975/76 when three camps in Lebanese Forces-dominated areas were overrun; existing camp boundaries are non-expandable; building inside some camps is restricted; and repairs as well as building of new structures have been forbidden in all the southern camps since 1991.3
Camp space is insufficient, and environmental conditions – lack of electricity, over-crowding, polluted water, sewage-seepage – are hazardous to the health of its inhabitants.3
Public construction schemes threaten several camps with complete or partial demolition.3
The department for Palestinian Affairs in Lebanon acknowledges that some 200 000 Palestinian refugees live in camps that are capable of holding only up to 50 000.1

Freedom of Association
Under Lebanese law, all associations and NGOs must be registered by Lebanese citizens, thus, Palestinians are not permitted to organize and form associations, unless through a Lebanese citizen
Where authorities discover that the associations are not Lebanese, they are forced to cease activities.1

Right to Education
Although Palestinians are entitled to the same education as Lebanese, when Lebanese schools and universities enroll their students, they give priority to Lebanese candidates. Moreover, private education is unaffordable to most Palestinians. According to the Department of Palestinian Affairs, around 20% of the Palestinian refugees have had access to Lebanese’s education UNRWA provides education in 75 schools (2 kindergartens, 36 elementary, 37 intermediate, and 5 secondary schools). UNRWA education is free, and attended by approximately 39, 000 students. 42% of UNRWA schools in Lebanon were built in the 1950s and 1960s, and today are in a state of disrepair. Moreover, the number of schools does not match the growing population, resulting in a system of double shifts, where classes are taught to one group in the morning and another in the afternoon. In each small classroom there are around 40 students
Because of overcrowding, students graduate from elementary school automatically, to free up space for new students. Failure rates are around 40-50%, which also reflects the poor teaching students receive, due to the fact that salaries for teachers are extremely poor, hours long, and training insufficient.1

Right to Health
In Lebanon, public hospitals are largely insufficient, and the majority of the population relies on private hospitals, which cost too much for most Palestinians. UNRWA provides medical services in 24 private general hospitals, and one maternity and child care center. Basic services are offered only in the areas of maternity, child care, family planning and control of infectious and non-infectious disease.1
Due to increasing populations and decreasing funds, UNRWA has had to restrict its services, included suspending subsidies for certain emergency treatments and medical staff, and reducing medical equipment and maintenance.3
Due to high levels of demand, the UNRWA doctors have had to see from 150-200 patients per day, and therefore cannot provide quality services.1
The UNRWA is barely able to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian population; partial reimbursement (25% of the cost of hospital treatment) is one of the coping mechanisms, which has resulted in cases of Palestinians who have not been able to leave hospitals because they cannot pay the costs of their stay.1

Right to Social Security
The Lebanese law on social security (26/09/63) relating to foreigners, states that only foreigners who hold a work permit and are from a State which applies the principal of reciprocity may claim social security. As a result, Palestinian workers are excluded, even when they have a work permit, as they cannot meet the principal of reciprocity criteria because they are stateless.1

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1. Tahri, M. and De Donato, M. Refugees also Have Rights! Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Sept. 2000

2. Zakharia, L. Poverty Intensification Strategies: The Case of Palestinian Refugees. January 1997; posted to FOFOGNET Digest, 3 March 1997

3. Sayigh, R. Palestiinian Refugees in Lebanon. FOFOGNET Digest, 28 June - 3 July 1996

4. Sayigh, R. Palestinians In Lebanon: Pawns on a Tilted Chessboard. Between the Lines, June 2001