Reports & Researches

Report: No improvement for Palestinians

Report: No improvement for Palestinians [1]

BEIRUT: There has been no improvement in the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon over the past year, experts from the Palestinian Association for Human Rights said at a news conference Thursday. Palestinians suffer from poor education and health services and battle legally sanctioned discrimination, according to a report released by the association, also known as Witness, in an event at the Press Federation.

Refugees are also subjected to political and economic scrutiny, which affects their daily lives.

 "In brief, the humanitarian situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is becoming more fragile,” the report said.

Its conclusions are drawn from the association’s evaluation of progress made over the past year by the Lebanese government, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the international community.

Witness, an independent association working to improve the lives of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, releases annual reports evaluating living conditions and services.

There are more than 400,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, according to UNRWA, distributed across 12 refugee camps, the largest of which is Sidon’s Ain al-Hilweh camp.

Palestinians in Lebanon have long been subjected to discrimination, exacerbated by the volatile situation in the region. There have been fears that spillover from the Syrian war could stimulate extremist activity in the camps, which has brought increased scrutiny and pressure from the government.

"The Ain al-Hilweh camp has come under especially strict security measures following every [security] incident [in the country],” the report said. "Such measures leave a deep impact on the lives of the Palestinian refugees residing in the camp.”

Even the deployment of a 150-member elite Palestinian force to preserve security could be undermined by the actions of the Lebanese Army, the report said.

"Camps became the focus of military and political interest ... residents fear that [if there is] a security incident, that they will pay the price, similar to what happened in Nahr al-Bared.”

The Nahr al-Bared camp in north Lebanon was reduced to rubble in 2007 following three-month-long battles with militants from Fatah al-Islam, who took over the camp.

Last year also brought no changes in the legal prohibition on Palestinians working in various professions. Palestinians are confined to jobs in agriculture and construction.

"We should be allowed to work [...] our capital is here, we are present here and we contribute to this country,” Mahmoud al-Hanafi, Witness’s managing director, told The Daily Star.

Refugees are denied the right to own property or receive inheritance and do not receive free medical services in governmental hospitals. Except in rare cases, Palestinian students are prohibited from attending public schools, the report said.

Building materials aren’t allowed into the camps, and despite overcrowding, their geographic limits are fixed. The ban on construction materials is driven by government fears that full-fledged houses would be built, which it sees as a sign of permanent settlement in Lebanon.

The association put forward a set of recommendations for the government, saying it should deal with the Palestinian refugee camps with a humanitarian approach rather than a military one, particularly with regard to checkpoints. It argued that most of the residents are refugees, who have no intention of destabilizing the country.

The report also recommended that the government issue "PVC magnetic ID cards and passports for Palestinian refugees, similar to those issued for Lebanese citizens, in compliance with international standards.”

The report was heavily critical of the aid provided by UNRWA, which offers health and education services in the camps and is responsible for helping improve living conditions there. The agency was also given a mandate to rebuild the Nahr al-Bared camp at the 2008 Vienna Conference.

The report claimed that no "significant development” has been recorded in health services, despite the dire need for better care. X-rays, MRI machines and modern lab equipment are reportedly lacking at UNRWA health centers and there is a problem with under qualified staff.

"[There is a] need to train the staff – namely nurses – to practice a more effective role, including the stitching, cleaning and treatment of injuries.”

The report also decried the state of schools in the camps. "UNRWA’s educational institutions remain, at the date of this report, inadequately equipped and staffed.”

Although the U.N. organization has a scholarship program for Palestinian refugees, funded by an external budget, the organization reportedly provided only 39 scholarships in 2014, compared to 90 in 2010.

After seven years, just over half of Nahr al-Bared has been rebuilt and the report cited a number of issues with the new construction.

"Residents have complained of the poor reconstruction standards, namely water leakage, cracks in the buildings and poor painting,” the report added.

"We’re not claiming that this report will push the Lebanese government to change its policy toward Palestinian refugees,” Hanafi said. "[It] is part of a cumulative work and a continuous fight.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 27, 2015, on page 2.