The Situation of the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Annual Report 2012
The situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon was exacerbated in 2012 on the different demographic, legal, educational and social levels. It even got worse following the Syrian crisis and the displacement of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian families from Syria to Lebanon. The Palestinian refugees still suffer the impact of the policies depriving them of civil, social and economic rights under the pretext of preventing their settlement in Lebanon, and safeguarding their Palestinian identity and their right of return. The preoccupation in Lebanon with the Syrian crisis and its reverberations on the local situation undermined the shy attempts to improve the situation of the Palestinian refugees.
Depriving the Palestinian refugees of their civil rights in Lebanon is a direct violation of the basic provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all relative international covenants, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Lebanon was committed in the preamble of its Constitution. The insistence on depriving the Palestinian refugees of their minimal rights only serves their marginalization rather than enhancing their issue. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are still concerned about the practices of the Lebanese authorities regarding their issue, especially those extremist statements calling for their deportation to Arab and foreign countries. These practices are also coupled with international covert projects trying to explore the stances of the Palestinian refugees and their adherence to the right of return and refusal of settlement, or their acceptance of the alternative homeland.
Some Lebanese political forces have openly opposed the decision of the Lebanese government and the international community regarding the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp under different pretexts. These same forces are opposed to granting the Palestinian refugees the right to work and to ownership and they demand that the refugees be granted passports issued by the Palestinian Authority instead of the documents issued by the Lebanese government, where they can travel and work outside Lebanon. Ultimately, this would strip them of their status as refugees, and rid the Lebanese government of any legal or moral obligations towards the Palestinian refugees.
So, what has the situation of the Palestinian refugees been like throughout 2012, and what are the most important measures pursued by the Lebanese government vis-à-vis this situation? Where did human rights improve, and where did they deteriorate? And who are the sides responsible for this situation?
I. The Structural Situation of the Palestinian Communities and Camps in Lebanon
The situation of marginalization and neglect in the Palestinian camps has continued throughout 2012. The Lebanese government continues to impose restrictions on the entry of construction materials and while around 5000 houses need reconstruction or restoration, the UNRWA can barely provide for the reconstruction of 750 houses, which is around 15% of total houses. Accordingly, this increases the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, especially in winter with the increased problems of leaking and humidity and the consequent injuries among family members. Such a problem is faced in all camps without any exception.
The Palestinian camps wait the necessary funding so that the UNRWA can execute its promises concerning the rehabilitation of the camps infrastructure and the construction of housing units. Nonetheless, the little expected to be completed is not commensurate with the number o residents and the population density in all camps in Lebanon.
For example, around 53% of the refugees in Nahr al-Bared in south Lebanon are outside their homes and they do not know when, or whether, their houses would be reconstructed. In addition, the remaining cost of rebuilding the camp is estimated at $170 million and those displaced from the camp still hope to go back to their homes instead of having to live in narrow barracks or garages that are not fit to live in whether in the summer or winter.
II. The Legal Situation throughout 2012
The legal situation of the Palestinian refugees has not witnessed any progress where most Lebanese parliamentary blocs are publicly opposed to the improvement of the situation of the refugees under pretexts that lack any legal ground. These pretexts mainly focus on the fear of naturalization and settlement in Lebanon while the Palestinian refugees are still deprived of the basic human rights.
This deprivation has a negative impact on the refugees’ level of life inside and outside the camps where 73% of refugees are under poverty line while 54% of them are unemployed. Such a situation is even exacerbated due to the rising prices and the UNRWA’s inability to meet its obligations towards the refugees in Lebanon.
Foreign Acquisition of Property Law, No. 296/2001, was not amended. Thus, the Palestinians are still deprived of the right to ownership and all efforts to change this situation have been doomed to failure.
On 17/8/2010, the Lebanese Parliament decided to allow the Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon to practice some professions, while then Labor Minister, Charbel Nahas, issued a decision to facilitate the Palestinian refugees’ access to free work permit. However, and despite the legal loopholes in these amendments, the current Labor Minister, Salim Jreissati cancelled all these privileges, even before they were implemented. Thus, the legal amendments issued by the Parliament were, at best cases, born dead.
III. The Syrian Crisis: Serious Political and Humanitarian Implications
The main development that characterized 2012 is the Syrian crisis and its humanitarian implications on the issue of the refugees. The Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria have witnessed major violations of their rights, and although they were obliged to leave their camps because of the crisis there, the Lebanese government did not take the conditions of their displacement into account.
Many Palestinian families were displaced from Syria’s camps to Lebanon, especially from al-Yarmouk camp, al-Sayeda Zeinab area, al-Hajar al-Aswad, and Dar‘aa. The number of the displaced is likely to grow due to the ongoing violence. Available figures show that more than 23,800 Palestinian refugees were displaced from Syria to Lebanon throughout 2012. Some of these families settled with their relatives, some others were hosted by NGOs while others had to rent houses inside or outside the camps despite the displacement, the lack of savings, and the low purchasing power.
IV. Upgrading the Status of Palestine to a Non-member Observer State and the Impact on the Rights of the Palestinian Refugees
On 29/11/2012, the UN General Assembly voted on a draft resolution to upgrade the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from an observer entity to a non-member observer state. 138 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 9 opposed it while 41 countries abstained from voting.
The resolution, although perceived as an achievement on the international level, triggers many questions related to the future of the Palestinian refugees in Diaspora, and their legal status in the countries hosting them. Other questions have to do with the legal value of the PLO as a representative of the Palestinian people, and the impact of such a step on the issue of the refugees in general, and those in Lebanon in particular.
It might be too early to assess the impact of this recognition on the issue of the refugees; however, the facts on the ground have not changed yet, and no major changes are expected to crystallize accordingly. On the contrary, the recognition could be a source of additional concern for some Lebanese politicians regarding the issue of settlement, especially following statements by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas reiterating his unwillingness to return to the city of Safad.
V. The Major Security Developments Related to the Refugees in 2012
The Palestinian camps did not witness major security development in 2012 aside from those incidents, which are categorized as individual accidents. The most prominent among these was the killing of two persons and the injury of 32 others, including three military officers, during the funeral of the Palestinian youth Ahmad Kassem in Nahr al-Bared camp. The accident has triggered tension in al-Beddawi, Ein al-Hilweh and al-Rashidieh camps after the Lebanese Army had arrested a Palestinian driving a motorbike on the entrance of al-Bared camp.
Accordingly, the camp residents set up a tent for an open sit-in demanding that the arrested be released, the security measures be elevated, and the permits system be annulled. Eventually, the Lebanese intelligence released those detained and declared the cancellation of the permits system in addition to its intention to facilitate the entry and exit from the camp.
VI. The UNRWA and the Rights of the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
The UNRWA is the lung for most Palestinian refugees who depend on it for the provision of various services. Further, it is the international witness for their displacement and their right of return to their homeland.
The most important rights of the refugees the UNRWA should provide are:
1. The right to health and medical care: There was one important development on this level represented in the development of a tertiary health care program. The UNRWA increased the coverage percentage in this program (40% to 50%), from early February, for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who are registered with the UNRWA and the Directorate-General for Political Affairs and Refugees and those non-registered with UNRWA but have identification documents from the Directorate. Another development was "care” program, which entails partial coverage of the costs of treatment that exceed $8000 to be paid at once. Nonetheless, the program would not cover the costs of intermittent or long-term treatment even if they exceeded the said amount.
The Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria to Lebanon: These are provided with the same medical services the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon benefit from. However, the problem lies in covering the cost difference (50%) for patients who need treatment within the tertiary care program.
The UNRWA is trying to improve the medical services for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. However, these services are still incomplete and burden the families of those patients who need regular medical checkups and examinations, besides their need for periodical medicines that could not be covered by these families who have to resort to charities and Zakat committees in mosques.
2. The right to education: the UNRWA provides primary, intermediate, and secondary education for the Palestinian refugees in its schools within the Palestinian camps and communities. It also provides students with books, and with stationery in case of extreme poverty. UNRWA also provides technical and vocational training centers, including Siblin and Nahr al-Bared vocational center. It sometimes covers limited one-year vocational programs for school dropouts. Yet, many problems undermine the education programs.
UNRWA has not founded its own university since its establishment in Lebanon; thus, the Palestinian student had study at his own expense whether in public or private universities. But for the last10 years, the UNRWA has worked on providing scholarships for students excelling in high school via some donors, including the European Union, Japan, Qatar and Canada, where it could provide between 80 and 100 scholarships per year.
During the academic year 2012-2013, it was noticed the number of scholarships decreased to 50 only, despite the large number of successful and distinguished students in high school. The UNRWA referred this decline to constant sums provided by the donors and the rise in tuition fees by 10%.
VII. Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Lebanon
The Palestinian Red Crescent is one of the PLO institutions; it directly reports to the Palestinian National Fund, and it has many hospitals deployed from south to north Lebanon. Yet, these hospitals have witnessed a funding crisis in 2012 due to the financial crisis undergone by the Palestinian Authority, which consequently affected the role of these hospitals in alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian refugees on the level of health.
Although these hospitals are contracted with UNRWA at encouragement prices, and received partial funding from the Qatari Red Crescent and the Danish Red Cross, their financial resources are still below the minimum. Thus, financial problems affect the employees and different operational departments in the hospitals. "Witness” followed up on the issue of the Crescent hospitals during 2012 with the responsible sides.
VIII. Security Directorates and Authorities and the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
• The General Security and the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
The Lebanese General Security issues identification documents for non-ID Palestinian who are estimated at 4750 to 5000 persons. Yet, this procedure has not been clear and has entailed many obstacles and complications. In 2012, there was an agreement between the General Security and the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), in cooperation with UNRWA, to start issuing identity documents to non-ID Palestinians to facilitate their movement, marriage, and education. This step has been launched but at a slow pace.
As the Syrian crisis unfolded, the Lebanese General Security opened all border crossings to allow the passage of Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria to Lebanon with temporary permits for 15 days only. However, and as a result of the extended crisis and the dangers that might face the refugees in case they were forced to go back to Syria after their residency permits expire, the General Security allowed Palestinian refugees to stay in Lebanon for a month without fines, while the permit would be extended periodically until the end of the crisis. But some limited errors were reported at the crossings as some of those who exceeded the essential period of 15 days were fined and they would not be allowed to enter Lebanon before 5 years.
• Directorate-General of the Internal Security Forces (ISF)
This Directorate-General is concerned with the situation of the refugees through the camps’ police stations. It is responsible for the detention of those who violate the law, and for implementing the consequent sentences in prisons run by the Directorate.
The Palestinian refugees face a number of problems in their relation with the ISF mainly represented in the detention of persons based on similarity of name despite the difference in date of birth or mother’s name and the confusion caused by such arrests.
• Directorate-General for Political Affairs and Refugees
It is one of the directorates affiliated with the Lebanese Interior Ministry, and it is concerned with maintaining records of the Palestinian refugees since their displacement. Thus, it is the entity authorized with issuing all identification documents and papers for the Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon.
The Directorate has improved its services and facilitated the procedures needed for issuing documents for the Palestinian refugees. However, there are still some problems represented mainly in the absence of a permanent director who can decide on complicated documents, the slow mechanization especially in the presence of files that have not been renewed since the inception of the Directorate, and the quality of the identity document which is susceptible to quick damage.
• The Palestinian Refugees and the Lebanese Army
The Lebanese Army is one of the sides charged with maintaining peace and stability in Lebanon, including in the Palestinian refugee camps. To this end, the Lebanese Army maintains checkpoints at the entrance of different camps while many problems mar the relation between the Army and the refugees residing in the camps. These problems include:
- The high number of those wanted for investigation based on malicious reports, and the absence of a sound mechanism to resolve this issue in coordination between the Army Command and the Palestinian security committees in the camps.
- The increased restrictions on the entrances to the camps upon logistical exchange of the units stationed at these entrances.
- Granting permits for the entry of 40% only of needed construction material thus urging the refugees to buy their need from the black market at double the price.
- Delaying decisions regarding building permits provided by the UNRWA for the renovation of Palestinian homes in the camps and demanding the UNRWA to enter the materials with its own trucks that are not enough.
• The Ministry of Justice and the Palestinians detained on the background of Nahr al-Bared events
In June 2012, the Lebanese authorities released 9 persons detained on the background of Nahr el-Bared events, including 2 Palestinians. 28 Palestinians are being held in Roumieh prison without trial since May 2007. "Witness” has sent a letter to Lebanese PM Najib Mikati on 17/5/2012 demanding that their trial be speeded up. Note that many detainees have been arrested for periods that sometimes exceed the sentences they might receive for their charges.
• The Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC)
Palestinian refugees in the camps complain about the marginalization of the LPDC and the abolition of any role of its field team after it used to have a major role in following up on all problems facing the refugees in Palestinian camps and communities and trying to solve them. Currently, its role is limited to some courtesy visits.
• The National Plan for Human Rights 2013-2019
In 2012, the human rights parliamentary committee adopted the National Plan for Human Rights 2013-2019. The plan is national, comprehensive and its provisions accurately describe the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The plan provides a set of recommendations but lacks any mention of the right to ownership or to practicing liberal professions. Neither does it mention any mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the recommendations but rather leaves it for the discretion of every ministry or public administration to implement them.
IX. The Conciliation Efforts and the Rights of the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
The conciliation efforts that have started since many years did not have any positive impact on the situation of the Palestinian refugees. In addition, the Palestinian political stance is still divided, thus affecting the unity of the political and security decision in the camps. The Palestinian division has clear negative impact on the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon, as there is absence of a sound process of decision-making while coordination between the factions is only imposed by major urgent events, rather than within the known political framework and rules.
The Lebanese Government
The Lebanese government should comply with its international obligations namely the respect of the Palestinian as a human being. Accordingly, it should seek to amend all regulations which are incompatible with the provisions and stipulations of the International Charter of Human Rights, particularly:
a. Give the Palestinian the right to ownership by amending Law 296/2001.
b. Amend regulations governing liberal professions, particularly medicine, engineering, pharmacy to allow the Palestinians practice these professions in a legal way.
c. Amend the social security law to allow the Palestinian worker to fully benefit from the NSSF allowances like his Lebanese peers.
d. Expand camps to accommodate the growing population.
e. Speed up the trial of Palestinian detainees who have been arrested more than five years without trial, or released by a general amnesty resolution.
The Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC)
a. Utilization of the financial resources received by the LPDC for to enhance the Palestinian situation, especially in Nahr al-Bared camp, besides the automation of the refugees’ documents.
b. The need to include Palestinian members in the LPDC who are experts in the Palestinian issues and capable of following up on pressing issues.
c. The need for extending relations between the LPDC and other Palestinian civil society institutions in order to know the real needs of the Palestinian refugees.
d. The need to gain the support of the current Lebanese government.
e. The need for LPDC’s legal support of the refugees’ issues before the Lebanese state regarding civil, economic and human rights in various fields.
a. The need to increase and enhance the services to the Palestinian refugees in all sectors.
b. The need to determine the priorities of the refugees and work to cover them,
c. The need to create job opportunities for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and reduce reliance on foreign workers.
d. The need to rationalize spending and allow the optimum benefit from available resources.
e. The need to settle the issue of Nahr al-Bared camp by completing all construction packages and securing the needs of the displaced residents till they return to their homes.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
a. The need to work towards the establishment of a Palestinian frame of reference capable of following up on the files of the Palestinian refugees with the Lebanese side.
b. The need to secure sufficient financial resources to support and develop the Red Crescent institutions.
c. The need to support the Palestinian Student Fund financially and politically so it would continue to provide Palestinian students with its services.
d. The need to develop a clear mechanism for the Palestinian social security institution by covering a part of the treatment expenses for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
e. The need to focus on Nahr al-Bared file with the donor countries to complete its reconstruction and secure the return of its displaced residents.
The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness)