Executive Summary of 2014 Annual Report
The issue of Palestinian Refugees in general, and especially those in Lebanon, has remained vigorous in spite of its dramatic nonattendance during the past three years amid the surfacing crises of the Syrian refugees. The refugees living conditions have become harsher, in the absence of any international effort to pressure the Israeli Occupation on the necessity of implementing international legislations related to the collective rights of the Palestinian people (the Right of Return (RoR) and the Right of Self-Determination). Action has also been absent at the level of humanitarian aid, to the point that the issue of the Palestinian refugees, considered by far the longest living refugee case in contemporary human civilizations, was not even included on the agenda of the United Nations. While the political and security crisis worsens in Syria, tens of thousands of additional Palestinians had sought refuge in Lebanon. Those refugees are currently of no legal status in Lebanon, thus making the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon the spot for yet other cases of painful humanitarian suffering.
During the year 2014, there has been no positive modification to the Lebanese legislations with regards to the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. No decrees had been taken to improve their living conditions as the Lebanese constitutional and political conditions during that year had not allowed in the first place for making such modifications, not to mention the chronic political and sectarian obstacles.
On another hand, the security developments in Syria and those related in Lebanon, namely the explosions and the clashes on the eastern borders with armed groups, had shed heavy lights back again at the camps, especially Ein al-Helwe camp that have been under strict security measures at every incident. Such measures leave a deep impact on the lives of the Palestinian refugees residing inside the camp, whereas the Lebanese Authorities have not yet lifted any such measures regardless of establishing a joint Palestinian security force inside the camp and regardless of this force's notable performance; hence, the confidence levels in the efficiency of this force are currently at their lowest among the camp's population.
Similarly at the level of the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) services, where no significant development has been witnessed to the better, if not to say some issues have deteriorated, such as the issue of reconstruction of Naher al-Bared camp and the chronic issues of education, health, social affairs, and university scholarships... The UNRWA claims that such deterioration is caused by the lack of funds and the declined interest at the level of the international community, currently busy with other humanitarian issues (Gaza Strip, Syria, Libya and Yemen...).
At the level of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), no significant change has been witnessed from the past year (2013), except for the deterioration of some services of the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) and the closure of some additional PRC institutions.
Summing it up briefly, the humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon are becoming more vulnerable.
Thus said, what is the current situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon for the year 2014, and what are the recommendations of this year's annual report?
During the year 2014, there has been no significant development in the health sector, where the UNRWA has maintained its health program from the previous years, since 2010. The UNRWA continues to provide primary care services at its health centers with the same lowliness of the previous years, regardless of the urgent need to adopt modern techniques (x-ray imaging, MRI, modern lab equipment) and the need to provide the requirements for sustainable operations; not to remind also of the need to train the staff, namely the nurses, to practice a more effective role such as stitching, cleaning and treating injuries, rather than merely measuring the pressure and temperature of the patients. The UNRWA healthcare centers suffer also inadequacy in specialized doctors in the various medical specializations.
There has also been no significant development at the level of UNRWA's education program during 2014, where none of the many complaints and issues had been addressed. UNRWA's educational institutions remain until the date of this report inadequately equipped and staffed. A period of nearly three months is wasted amid instability and indecision at the outlook of every school year in the UNRWA's educational institutions.
The UNRWA runs in Lebanon a scholarship program for Palestinian refugees, funded by an external budget [outside the UNRWA] and by the contributions of the European Union and different individual and agency contributors, to the benefit of Palestinian refugees studying at universities in Lebanon. This program is relatively new to the UNRWA sectors of action and it is very important to the Palestinian refugee students in Lebanon, in light of the high costs of tertiary education in Lebanon.
The role of the grants department at the UNRWA is to support the Palestinian students in realizing high academic achievements and attracting university-level scholarship. However, this vital role has not been visible, which led to a dramatically decreased number of beneficiaries, estimated at only 39 scholarships during 2014, which is very low in comparison to other grant schemes and in comparison to the same program in earlier years (in 2010, the number of beneficiaries was around 90 scholarships). Currently, there are a total of 355 students currently benefitting from the UNRWA's scholarship scheme, of whom 219 are female students and 136 are male students.
As for the reconstruction efforts in Naher El-Bared camp, where only 55% of reconstruction has been completed after 7 years:
The UNRWA continued in 2014 with the implementation of the fourth set of reconstruction, started earlier; aiming at delivering it to its residents at the earliest possible. The reconstruction however still faces major obstacles, including:
- Lack of funding, with many of the donor countries not keeping up their promised commitments. The UNRWA lacks the necessary fund to complete the remaining reconstruction phases, as 55% of residency units in the camp remain unconstructed.
- Complaints by current residents on the poor reconstruction standards, namely water leakage, cracks in the buildings, and poor painting.
On the security conditions in the Camps, the year 2014 recorded the killing of 12 individuals in the Palestinian Camps:
The Palestinian camps has witnessed stressful security developments during 2014, most notably in Ein al-Helwe camp following the events of Al-Assir in Sidon where some of his colleagues had sought refuge in Taamer area of the Camp. These included the infamous Fadel Shaker, among others, which attracted large media attention to the camp. Additionally, some camp residents were accused of involvement in the assassination of former minister, Mohammad Shatah, in an SUV car [Honda CRV] that originally left the camp on 27/12/2013, as per the claims of some Lebanese media. Na'im Abbas, from Ein al-Helwe, was arrested on the background of his involvement in many explosions that had been carried out in different Lebanese areas, especially in Beirut's Southern Suburb. The Lebanese Army thus tightened its security measures in the camp, limiting the flow towards and outside the camp, further increasing the suffering of the camp residents. The strict measures on leaving and entering the camp leave deep impact on the livelihoods of the residents, especially students and employees who need to leave the camp and return to it on a daily basis, imposing long waiting hours at the camp entrances. The crises in Syria further worsened the suffering of the camp residents in Lebanon, not only in Ein al-Helweh, as the various camps' residents remain nervous towards any security development that might led to them being the scapegoat, as was the case earlier in Naher El-Bared camp. This and similar worries has led to the establishment of the joint Palestinian initiative.
The Joint Palestinian Imitative and the establishment of a joint Palestinian security force for the camps' security has been one of the rare positive developments during the year 2014. Yet, the desired goals were not achieved because the Lebanese army still controls the entrances of the camps, with strict inspection points that hinder the exit and entrance of camp residence; not to mention the strict measures imposed against the sourcing of construction material to the camp [such material cannot be brought into the camp except with a permit from the Lebanese Ministry of Defense, and in very limited quantities; those caught bringing unauthorized construction material into the camp are transferred to military trial].
The Ministry of Justice and the Palestinian Detainees following the events of Naher El-Bared and Abra
Following the stalling of the trial of Palestinians arrested on the background of the events in Naher El-BAred and Abra [Sidon], and following a visit for this purpose by WITNESS to the Lebanese Minister of Justice, Ashraf Rifi, calling for an appropriate address of this issue, the Minister Rifi promised to start the trial of those arrested and release free those who have completed the terms of their sentencing compared to the time they had already spent in detention. Surprisingly later, the sentences issued by the justice council were unexpectedly prejudiced in terms of the years of sentencing, as if they were imposed by the security conditions in Syria and the accompanying incidents in Lebanon [in Tripoli and Arsal]. The same applies to those involved in the case of Ahmad al-Asir, with many Palestinian arrested arbitrarily and waiting unjustifiably for trial.
Palestinian Refugees who sought refuge from Syria to Lebanon:
The Lebanese state is still denying the Palestinian refugees seeking refuge from Syria in Lebanon any legal status as refugees in the Lebanese territories. Such refugees are considered by the Lebanese authorities either tourists or displaced, but not legal refugees, in an attempt to avoid the additional burden of providing them with associated social and humanitarian responsibilities of shelter, healthcare and relief services; which left such responsibilities on the shoulders of the already burdened UNRWA institutions. More alarming however is the devoid legal status of the Palestinian refugees who had sought refuge from Syria in Lebanon.
Towards such conditions, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) recommends the following:
On Behalf of the International Community: The Palestinian issue and the suffering of the Palestinian people are the result of a clear international volatility that led to the establishment of the Israeli Occupation State and provided it with the legal and judicial cover, being represented as a state in the United Nations; associated with the continuous disregard of the Israeli grave violations against the rights of the Palestinian people, inside and outside Palestinian lands, including in Lebanon. More than 67 years have passed on the issue of Palestinian refugees in the absence of a just resolution that meets the standards of the public international law, and in painful disregard to the plight of these refugees. The International Community is thus accountable for the larger share of responsibility towards the Palestinian issue, especially the plight of the refugees. The International Community shall seek to:
- Implement the international law related to humanitarian international law and international law of human rights; sue the Israeli Occupation officials who are involved in crimes and violations in the appropriate international criminal courts (establishing a special international criminal court for the purpose of trying the Israeli Occupation officials); and impose political, economic and even military sanctions against the Israeli Occupation to abide by international law.
- Pressure the Israeli Occupation Authorities towards the implementation of its international commitments in relation to the Palestinian issue, including primarily the RoR of Palestinian refugees to their towns and origins.
- Espouse the UNRWA budget as part and parcel of the UN budget, thus the UNRWA budget will be independent from voluntary contribution of states, often affected by these countries' interest, but rather by specified international commitments, for the UNRWA to be able to practice its mandate of providing the increasing needs of the Palestinian refugees.
On Behalf of the Lebanese State:
The Lebanese Authorities shall stand up to their international responsibilities and commitments with regards to treating the Palestinians with due respect, hence adjust its legislations and reverse its decrees that are in contradiction with the international legislations and human rights, namely:
- Entitling the Palestinians with their right to ownership and adjusting the law no. 296/2001 in this regards.
- Adjusting order laws in free professions, including medical, engineering, pharmacy and law jobs among others, to allow for such qualified Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to legally practice their professions in these domains.
- Adjusting the laws of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to allow the Palestinian employees and/or workers to full beneficiary from the entitlements of this fund, on equal foot to the Lebanese citizens.
- Taking the necessary decrees that allow the expansion of the camps' geographic area, in appropriate relation to the increase in the camps' population; and coordination with UNRWA in this regards.
- Adopt humanitarian-driven approaches in dealing with the Palestinian camps, rather than security-driven ones, especially in relation to the entrance points of the camp; and avoiding prejudices and generalization/stereotyping in dealing with residents of the camp, where the majority of them are ordinary refugees and not wanted individuals. The Lebanese authorities shall also allow from this perspective, the bringing of construction material into the camps, with no complications.
- Issuing PVC magnetic ID cards and passports for the Palestinian refugees, similar to those issued for the Lebanese citizens, in compliance with international standards.
- Adopting geographic decentralization in the issuing of personal records and documentations in the various governorates and districts [ID, family ID, statements of birth and death etc...].
- Addressing the issue of refugees who lack legal identity documents, thus providing them with the necessary legal status and identity documents.
- Addressing the legal status of the Palestinian refugees, whose earlier refuge had been in Syria, in an appropriate manner that complies with international human rights and humanitarian laws, considering them as refugees and not as visiting Arab citizens; and not imposing strict measures on their ability to move.
On Behalf of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA):
- Increasing the scope of coverage and quality standards of services provided to the Palestinian refugees in the various sectors, especially in the vital health and education sectors.
- Defining the priority needs of the refugees and working towards the appropriate coverage of these needs.
- Working towards the vital task of providing employment opportunities for the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon, and decreasing dependency levels on foreign employees.
- Adopting transparency and M&E standards in the areas of infrastructure development, renovation, and reconstruction.
- Increasing university-level scholarships in appropriate relation to the number of passing students each year; and widening the scope of coverage of such support to include all students, regardless of their grades, while devising a specific scheme for the students of outstanding academic achievement.
- Reviewing and re-assessing the expenses towards achieving the highest cost-efficiency in investing the available resources.
- Completing the reconstruction process of Naher El-Bared camp and meanwhile provide the camp's former residents, whose homes are not yet reconstructed, with their living needs until they are able to return to the camp.
- Activating the legal support and protection department and expanding its scope of coverage to provide the necessary legal support for the refugees in Lebanon in the various sectors.
- Maintaining the provision of aid to the Palestinian refugees who moved from Syria to Lebanon, and not denying them aid under any pretext of claim.
- Adopting a clear, transparent and accountable mechanism at the human resources department in specifying the qualifications and desired features of employees for the vacancies, rather than devise some vacancies for specific individuals through intermediary influencers. The roster should be publically advertised.
On Behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO):
- Re-establishing the active role of the PLO as a political umbrella and reference for the Palestinians in Lebanon; and emphasizing its role in supporting the rights and plight of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon through coordination with the concerned Lebanese parties.
- Providing the needed attention to the PRC hospitals in terms of equipment and staffing, and if possible, consider them under the authority of the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
- Providing the financial and political support to the Fund of Palestinian Student, to enable it to maintain its services to the Palestinian students in Lebanon, in parallel to other institutions and supporting funds.
- Increasing the resources of the Palestinian Health Security Fund, to better enable its role of covering the treatment of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
- Following up with the UNRWA on the issue of Naher El-Bared specificities and details, in light of the dramatic deterioration of the services at all levels, and the misinformed situation at the highest level of the reconstruction efforts, amid claims of insufficient funds for the completion of construction in zones N-5, N-0 and N-17; although UNRWA had earlier announced the availability of funds for completing these zones.
The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness)