There are millions of refugees around the world and they are all without exception in need of support. However, the situation of the Palestine refugees in Lebanon as well as in other places within the region is unique. There is no other refugee group that has been forced to live outside their homeland for so long. There is no other refugee group that has remained stateless for so long and unable to return to the place that they call home.
There are estimated to be 280 000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Although a large percentage live in 12 formally assigned refugee camps around the country, many others live in informal gatherings or are dispersed within the Lebanese community. Within Lebanon the Palestinian refugees face particular issues relating to their status and rights. Although Lebanon has been host to the refugees of Palestine since 1948, they have never been considered citizens of this country and as a result have never attained many of the civil rights that the Lebanese citizens enjoy.
While recognized as refugees, the Palestinians are not covered by the mandate of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) but instead have an agency directly responsible for Palestine refugees only, that is, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNRWA). Within Lebanon, Palestinians have very limited access to services supplied by the Lebanese government but must instead rely on UNRWA and other NGOs for all their education, health, housing and social service needs. With this responsibility and a growing refugee population, an ever increasing amount of funds are needed to maintain even the most basic of services. However, UNRWA is increasingly unable to meet these needs, and the refugees are ever more reliant on other NGOs, including JCC, to enable them to cope with the necessities of life.
Current Lebanese laws prevent Palestinians from purchasing property in Lebanon and from transferring currently held properties to their children or other family members. The refugee camps sit on land owned by the government or by a religious order and therefore residents of the camps face strict rules about where, what and how they can build. Old agreements do not allow the camps to expand beyond the space allotted to them so as to accommodate the ever growing population. This has prevented any horizontal expansion and has forced the camps to grow vertically build on old infrastructure which cannot deal with all the added pressure. This has contributed to the horribly overcrowded conditions with limited access to water, electricity and waste disposal services that most Palestinian families in the camps have to endure.
Although 2010 saw slight changes to the Lebanese labor laws, Palestinians are still excluded from a variety of jobs and professional roles. With severely limited employment prospects it is of little surprise that many young Palestinians do not feel motivated to continue their school studies, let alone aim for a place at university. As “foreigners” in Lebanon, all Palestinians wishing to work legally must hold a valid work permit, something that is not automatically granted. Palestinians may also face discrimination in the salaries they are paid and the types of work they are employed to do. Not only that, but Palestinians and their employers are also required to pay social security taxes, despite the fact that Palestinians have no right to access the Lebanese social security network.
Identity / Citizenship
As refugees from Palestine, which was under British mandate at the time of their expulsion from their country, Palestinians do not hold a passport of any country. If registered with UNRWA they can have an identity card, but there is no Palestinian state and therefore no Palestinian passport. In Lebanon, the Palestinian refugees are not able to access Lebanese citizenship and thus remain as foreigners in the country. Lebanese laws prevent mothers from passing their identity to their children, so a child born to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother is not considered Lebanese.
The lack of a passport means that a Palestinian is unable to travel freely and must obtain special travel papers every time he wishes to leave or re-enter the country.