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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.
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