campsThe refugee camps are coordinated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which has five fields of operation, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and Gaza. The figures provided below represent those that are registered with UNRWA and do not include those who are in Diasporas and also Palestinians who were internally displaced in Israel.

(The figures below are taken from UNRWA)

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) released its concluding observations on Lebanon’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 2 June, following its examination of the country’s third periodic report in May. The CRC expressed its concern over “the persistent de facto discrimination faced by… Palestinian children…” as well as other vulnerable groups, “especially with regard to their access to adequate social and health services and educational facilities.”

Amnesty International has previously expressed concern about legal and other discrimination against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon on several occasions – including in a briefing submitted to the CRC last April (Lebanon: Limitations on Rights of Palestinian Refugee Children, AI Index: MDE 18/004/2006), which described discrimination faced by Palestinian refugee children in their access to adequate housing, social security, education, and in their right to be registered.

Discrimination against Palestinian refugee children is one aspect of the long-standing discrimination and abuses of fundamental economic and social rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In relation to employment, Palestinian refugees have restricted access to work opportunities and diminished protection of their rights at work. A law regulating property ownership is formulated in such a way as to ban Palestinian refugees specifically from owning property. Furthermore, the Lebanese authorities prohibit the entry of any building or maintenance material to camps in the south of Lebanon. The CRC stated that “it continues to be deeply concerned about the harsh social and economic living conditions of Palestinian refugee children in refugee camps, their limited access to public services, including social and health services and education, and exposure to violence at home, in schools and in the wider community.”

Within Lebanon there are several thousand so-called non-ID Palestinian refugees who are required to live under even more severe restrictions than the other Palestinian refugees because they do not possess valid identification documents or legal residency. The CRC recommended that “in order to secure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by children in Lebanon” the government should “ensure that all children within its territory, including the children of non-ID Palestinian refugees, are registered immediately after birth. Meanwhile, children whose births have not been registered and who are without official documentation should be allowed to access basic services, such as health and education, while waiting to be properly registered.”

There are close to 400,000 Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon, mostly people who arrived in 1948 or their descendents. They fled or were expelled from their homes or lands in what is now Israel, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, and have since been unable to return. The Lebanese authorities often justify restrictions on the rights of Palestinian refugees in relation to the preservation of Palestinian refugees’ right to return. For example, in relation to the prohibition of expansion or renovation of existing refugee camps, Lebanon’s state party report, which was examined by the CRC, explains that this is to “prevent the consolidation of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon and implicitly accept the forced resettlement and destroy the principle behind the right of return.” Such justifications are both unfounded and incompatible with Lebanon’s human rights obligations.

The right to return is a right protected under international law; other human rights do not contradict it and their fulfilment does not negate it. Palestinian refugees, including those in Lebanon, should be able to enjoy their human rights to the fullest possible extent until such time when their right to return is fulfilled. Any delay in ending discriminatory measures against Palestinian refugees represents a continued violation of Lebanon’s human rights obligations.

Amnesty International continues to urge the Lebanese government to take all necessary steps to end all forms of discrimination, both de facto and de jure, against Palestinian refugees, including in their enjoyment of the right to work and rights at work, the rights to adequate housing, social security and education. The authorities in Lebanon should also, without delay, take all necessary steps to register all non-ID Palestinian refugees and to ensure that all Palestinian refugee children are able to fully enjoy their human rights on par with Lebanese children. In this context, Amnesty International calls on the Lebanese authorities to fully implement the CRC’s recommendations without delay.

The representative of a UN relief agency in Lebanon said the willingness of the current government to address the situation of Palestinian refugees provided a unique opportunity to make headway on the issue. "Past governments were reluctant to ease restrictions on Palestinian refugees," said Richard Cook of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). "This government is more willing to discuss this issue ... I say the doors have been opened for us and we should seek this opportunity."

Speaking during a conference at the American University of Beirut Wednesday, Cook said 400,000 refugees are registered with his agency.

The conference covered the mandate and operations of UNRWA and that of the United Nations Higher Council for Refugees in Lebanon. It falls within a series of events organized for the occasion of world refugee day on June 25.

Cook said political realities made certain options, such as expanding the overcrowded camps - whose boundaries have not changed since 1948 - or relocating refugees off-limits.

The official said he had recently discussed with Premier Fouad Siniora's Cabinet a number of short-term solutions that will improve the situation of the refugees and added that he sensed a readiness to help those refugees.

The refugee community came to Lebanon primarily from the northern part of the Occupied Territories 58 years ago.

"Every time I go to these camps I see living conditions that are much worse that those in Gaza," said Cook.

"Camps are overcrowded, there is no electricity, no water, no natural light, no ventilation ... and the lack of these factors creates diseases among refugees," said Cook.

PRC_LogoThe land area occupied by the 12 Palestinian official refugee camps in Lebanon has remained mostly unchanged since 1948 despite the Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon having swelled from an estimated 100,000 in 1949 to over 400,000 at the present time.

Amnesty International remains concerned about the limitations which continue to be imposed on the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon in order to restrict their exercise of human rights and which discriminate against them on racial grounds.

These include restrictions that discriminate against Palestinians in relation to housing rights, the right to work, and right to education.

In many cases, Palestinian families interviewed by Amnesty International indicated that children dropped out of school as they believe that spending many years of education to finish school or university will be wasted as they will not be able to use such education to gain a living.

One of the refugees interviewed by Amnesty International has lived with his family in El-Maachouk -- an unregistered gathering in Tyre - for 32 years where his family moved from Burj El-Shemali (Tyre) to a bigger house. He had left school in fourth grade to support his family when his father was detained during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He now lives in a small house close to his parents, with his wife and children. His parents' house has one room where the ceiling is made of corrugated metal while the other room has a ceiling made of bamboo sticks topped by mud. "To build bricks in the ceiling instead we need permission from the local authority; the local authority does not give permissions. We could go to the governorate but it does not give permissions either."


According to UNRWA There are: 400,582 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA between 10,000 and 40,000 Palestinian refugees are not registered with UNRWA but registered with the Lebanese authorities 4,000 to 3,000 are not registered at all

PRC_LogoThis is Sami Amr’s second trip to the local rubbish tip in one day. The thirteen year old works as a glass collector. That is, he picks up broken glass from tips and sells them on to make money.

Having left school at the age of eleven, his future, just like the future of thousands of other children in the same country, looks bleak. This country is Lebanon. These are the children of the Palestinian refugees.

Lebanon has witnessed a major surge of patriotism in the last year, particularly on the recent anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination. With independence and economic strength on top of everyone's agenda, one must question whether success can be possible with the ongoing and worsening situation in the refugee camps. The situation that Amnesty International has called a ‘Legacy of Shame’ and the late Rafik Hariri called ‘unjust.’

With the pressure on Lebanon to implement the UN resolution of 1559, the focus has turned on the Palestinian militias to disarm. However, in reality most believe that the real danger also lies in the dreadful conditions that they live in. This is what could aide in agitating the conditions for extremism.

The representation of the refugees is often cosmetically coated with the image of militants, Syrian supporters, or simply unfortunate victims. But none of these images interest young Sami. He explains the reasons why he needs to take this menial job. 'I want to help my seven year old sister, Hala, become a doctor when she is older, it's all our family's dream that she will be able to work as a doctor in this camp.'

Sami lives in ‘Ein El-Helwa,’ the largest refugee camp in Lebanon which holds over 45,000 people, nearly half of them under the age of fifteen. There are approximately 12 camps altogether in the country, with a total amount of 400,000 refugees; a substantial amount in a country where the total population is approximately 3,826,000. While they wait to return to their homeland, the camps they live in struggle to fulfill their basic human needs. Waiting to return for nearly sixty years, the fourth generation are now being told to continue in this futile lingering.

The state of Lebanon will not accept them as permanent settlers, and they themselves do not want to be seen as Lebanese. But while we wait for a recognized Palestinian state and some solutions to the Israeli problem, some Lebanese laws need amending, now more than ever. In order to make Lebanon an icon of individual rights and justice, the widening gap of living standards must be addressed.

There are many examples of Palestinians who, by obtaining other nationalities have been able to contribute greatly to the Lebanese state, the great journalist Samir Kassir for example. But the Lebanese state and much of its population continue to forget the majority; or ignore them. But many fear that these young, frustrated Palestinian people may be the power that distresses Lebanon’s already delicate sectarian balance.

Sami Amr considers himself lucky. According to the ‘Popular Committee,’ a group that strives to represent the different political factions in Ein El Helwa, 80% of their population is unemployed.

All Lebanese share the dream of uniting and building their country now more than ever. But is this achievable in a country where approximately 10% who live in it remain without the right to own or inherit their property, receive social security or enter into most professions? Lebanese want to achieve economic, social and cultural prosperity, but parts of the country are deprived from basic human rights.

Sami skips over the sewage pipe in the street and enters his house. He has brought home a special treat of faruj (rotisserie chicken) for his mother, brother and three sisters.

Without a homeland, will Sami’s and his friend’s generation at least have an opportunity of a successful life of freedom and security? For their good and the good of Lebanon, I hope they will.

file_4ad84bb3cf_unrwa1The UNRWA director in Lebanon, Richard Cook, said Tuesday that Hamas‘ victory last month in legislative elections in Palestine will not affect the nature of the agency‘s work. "Although we are following up on the developments, we eiterate that our activities are purely humanitarian and there are no political activities on the UNRWA‘s agenda," he added.

Cook made the comment during a visit to refugee camps in Tyre, where he inspected a number of clinics and schools.

Cook visited the Rashidieh refugee camp to inspect Al-Aqsa Secondary School, before holding a meeting at the camp with Fatah‘s commander in Lebanon, Brigadier Sultan Abu al-Aynayn. Cook‘s visit is the first since Hamas‘ electoral victory, and since a series of protests by Palestinian popular committees across southern refugee camps against a number of UNRWA decisions.

Palestinian refugees earlier this year staged protests against a decision to cut medical
coverage, although UNRWA maintains it did not make any cuts.

Cook said the Lebanese government is cooperating positively with UNRWA and that ongoing contacts with officials aim to settle refugee-related issues, including permitting construction materials into the camps.