Persecution faced by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
After 56 years of exile, Palestinians living in
Lebanon continue to be explicitly and systematically deprived of their civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights and liberties.
Palestinians were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes and lands at
the time of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and again when
Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Many of them took refuge
in Lebanon, where they remain today, together with their descendents. There are
today about 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the majority of them
live in refugee camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for
Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Palestinians' right to return is clearly recognized and upheld in international
law. However, over 50 years have already elapsed since the start of the
Palestinian refugee problem and the right to return has yet to be realized.
For the past 56
years, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continue to live in horrific conditions
inside refugee camps. Their right to return to the homes they fled in 1948
continues to be completely denied by Israel, in direct violation of the
following international legal instruments:
General Assembly Resolution 194, re-affirmed over 110 times by the United
Nations General Assembly since 1948;
General Assembly Resolution 3236 and 52/62;
Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
The denial of this
individual and inalienable right has led stateless Palestinian refugees into a
life of misery in refugee camps throughout neighboring host countries.
Violations of International Human Rights Conventions
The treatment of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has been recognized to
constitute a violation of a plethora of basic human rights. Amnesty
reported in 2003 that the Lebanese treatment of stateless Palestinians is in
The International Covenant on
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights;
The International Covenant on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
The Convention on the Rights of the
The International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights;
The Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and;
The Convention Against Torture and
Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Canada has either ratified or acceded to each of these instruments.
face systematic discrimination that jeopardizes their capacity to attain the
essentials of a safe and healthy existence. Amnesty International has made the
following unequivocal observations:
Discrimination levied against
Palestinians in relation to the rights to own and inherit property and the right
to work, creates conditions where Palestinians refugees cannot enjoy an adequate
standard of living. […] The conditions that Palestinian refugees live in,
including their lack of access to adequate housing, food and clothing, lead to a
situation where Palestinian refugees do not enjoy the right to an adequate
standard of living.
and Syria have the largest Palestinian refugee populations. Those in Lebanon
probably suffer the most out of these three communities. For them, the pain
associated with the loss of their homes, the decades of exile in foreign
countries is aggravated by a policy of systematic discrimination against them.
Lebanon is a
country with a small population and very diverse ethnic and religious
communities. It has suffered through a long civil war and severe sectarian
tensions, to which the Palestinians were inextricably linked. The involvement of
Palestinian factions in the civil war is cited as one of the main reasons why
Palestinians are the victims of discrimination in Lebanon. This does not excuse
the systematic discrimination against them or the violation of their fundamental
to Employment & Abject Poverty
Lebanon are de jure and de facto discriminated against in relation
to other non-citizens with regards to the right to work and the right to social
Lebanese government applies a policy of reciprocity of treatment when it comes
to granting work permits; it will grant the right to work to foreign nationals
to the extent that their state grants the right to Lebanese nationals.
Palestinians are at a particular disadvantage in relation to other foreign
nationals as they do not have a state that could provide reciprocal treatment to
Palestinians face severe restrictions in their access to work
and to opportunities to gain their living by work.
Palestinian refugees are barred de jure from
practicing several professions such as law, medicine, pharmacy, and journalism
due to a requirement of possessing Lebanese citizenship or to having reciprocal
treatment in the country of the foreign national wishing to practice this
A Ministerial Decree issued on 15 December 1995 lists trades
and vocations that are restricted to Lebanese nationals; this includes a
non-exhaustive listing of dozens of trades and vocations restricted to Lebanese
employees or employers.
laws (resolution 621/1, decree 6812 of 1995, and decree 17561 of 1964) clearly
restrict foreigners from working in over 70 professions in Lebanon. Only
1% of the Palestinians in Lebanon manage to secure the mandatory work permit
required by the Lebanese government, in order to benefit from regular jobs.
majority of Palestinians are forced to work illegally, and in unskilled labor,
mostly in manual, irregular and daily – either paid, or in petty commerce in the
camps. The average individual income (44$) is a quarter of the Lebanese minimum
estimated that 60% of Palestinians in Lebanon live below the poverty line.
Other studies have indicated that proportions have risen to 80%, with 56% living
in extreme poverty.
Palestinians received work permits, and those who found work usually were
directed into unskilled occupations. Palestinian incomes continued to decline.
The law prohibits
from working in 72 professions.
According to UNRWA, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
have the highest rate of people living in "abject poverty" of all the
Palestinian refugee communities they serve.
Popular Committee, an administrative committee representing different political
factions in the 'Ayn al-Hilwah’ camp, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee
camp, says that the rate of unemployment is 80%. It mainly attributes this to
laws discriminating against Palestinian refugees in their ability to seek work.
to Adequate Housing & Property
de jure and de facto discriminated against as compared with other
non-citizens with regards to the rights to own and inherit property.
restricted from rebuilding or redeveloping refugee camps due to
Recent passing by Parliament of
revisions to the law concerning ownership of property by foreigners, a new level
of exclusion has been reached by forbidding "anyone who does not have
citizenship in a recognized state" from owning property. Though not named
explicitly, Palestinians are clearly meant by this roundabout phrasing. Those
Palestinians who already own property, moreover, will not be able to pass on
their homes to their children.
Palestinian refugees do not have
the right to own property in the country. Palestinians no longer may purchase
property and those who owned property prior to 2001 will be prohibited from
passing it on to their children.
does not explicitly target
but bars those who are not "bearer[s] of nationality of a recognized state" from
owning property; in practice, this means only the Palestinians.
number of Palestinians in Lebanon has tripled due to demographic growth and
Palestinians returning from the Gulf States (especially Kuwait, during the Gulf
War). Because of unemployment and restricted access to work, most Palestinians
have no choice but to live in concentrated areas such as the refugee camps.
camps have been allowed since the war of 1975/76 when three camps in Lebanese
Forces-dominated areas were overrun; existing camp boundaries are non-expandable;
building inside most camps is restricted; and repairs as well as building new
structures have been forbidden in all the Southern camps since 1991.
· Most Palestinian refugees lived in
overpopulated camps that suffered repeated heavy damage as a result of fighting
during the civil war, during the Israeli invasion of the country, and during
on-going camp feuds. The Government generally prohibited the construction of
permanent structures in the camps on the grounds that such construction
encouraged the notion of permanent refugee settlement in the country.
“Khaled Abu Hamid, a seventeen-year-old youth suffered a bullet injury in his
lower extremity when he was standing on the mounds that surround Buss camp (Tyre
Area) on 1st of July 2002. Fire was opened on him by Lebanese security that were
in "hot pursuit" of some Palestinian Refugee youth trying to "smuggle" some
building material on a motorcycle into the Buss camp. A motorcycle load of
building material becomes a target for security men and its driver becomes a
smuggler prone either to legal action (including being sued in military courts)
or -worse still- to becoming a target to official firearms if he tries to evade
the Lebanese checkpoints.”
Camp space is insufficient, and
environmental conditions – lack of electricity, over-crowding, polluted water,
sewage-seepage – are hazardous to the health of its inhabitants.
Public construction schemes
threaten several camps with complete or partial demolition.
The department for Palestinian
Affairs in Lebanon acknowledges that some 200,000 Palestinian refugees live in
camps that are capable of holding up to 50,000.
of Expression & Political Rights
Freedom of expression is conditioned on the
presence of Lebanese security forces and the Syrian army, who control exits
and entrances of most camps. Many Palestinians have been arrested and
transferred to either prisons in Lebanon or Syria.
For fear of reprisals, Palestinians are afraid to
express their opinions, not only due to the controls of Syrian and Lebanese
security, but also due to the different rivaling political factions within the
Palestinian refugees have no political rights. An
estimated 17 Palestinian factions operate in Lebanon, generally organized around
prominent individuals. Most Palestinians live in refugee camps controlled by one
or more factions. The leaders of the refugees are not elected, nor are there any
democratically organized institutions in the camps.
Palestinian refugees were subject to arrest,
detention, and harassment by state security forces, Syrian forces, and rival
Palestinians. For example, Palestinian refugees living in camps are not allowed
to bring in construction material to repair damaged houses. Lebanese security
services use this as leverage to recruit informers and buy their allegiance.
Palestinian groups in refugee camps maintain a
separate, arbitrary system of justice for other Palestinians.
Members of the various Palestinian groups that control the camps tortured and
detained their Palestinian rivals.
In the Palestinian camp of Ayn al Hilweh
assassination of opponents is more common than their arrest.
Many armed political factions compete for control
of the camps and factional fighting is a common feature of life in some of the
Under Lebanese law, all associations and NGOs
must be registered by Lebanese Citizens, thus, Palestinians are not permitted
to organize and form associations, unless through a Lebanese citizen.
Where authorities discover that the associations
are not Lebanese, they are forced to cease activities.
Freedom of Movement
Those waiting to go in and out of the camps may
be subject to identity checks by the Lebanese or Syrian army.
On 22nd September, 1995, the Lebanese
authorities forbade Palestinians (mainly working in Gulf States) outside Lebanon
to re-enter without a re-entry visa; at the same time their embassy would not
issue any new travel documents, without pre-authorization of the Ministry of the
Interior. Because of these restrictions many Palestinians working in the Gulf
States who were expelled by these countries after the Gulf War were unable to
return to either country. Many others did not want to risk leaving Lebanon, for
fear of not being permitted re-entry to see their families.
In 1999 the Lebanese government cancelled the
requirement for entry/exit visas. However, as the majority of Palestinians were
affected after the Gulf War, they were compelled to seek asylum elsewhere.
Palestinians are forbidden from living in the
areas near the frontiers, where they can only go with prior authorization.
Some of the Palestinian refugee camps in the
south of Lebanon might easily be mistaken for military zones. The camps are
isolated from the outside world by fences and are guarded by Lebanese soldiers
that control and vet access to and exit from the camps.
Right to Education
Although Palestinians are entitled to the same
education as Lebanese, when Lebanese schools and universities enroll their
students, they give priority to Lebanese candidates. Moreover, private
education is unaffordable to most Palestinians. According to the Department of
Palestinian Affairs, around 20% of the Palestinian refugees have had access to
UNRWA provides education in 75 schools (70
primary and 5 secondary). UNRWA education is free, and attended by
approximately 39000 students. 42% of UNRWA schools in Lebanon were built in the
1950s and 1960s, and today are in a state of disrepair. Moreover, the number of
schools does not match the growing population, resulting in a system of double
shifts, where classes are taught to one group in the morning and another in the
afternoon. In each small classroom there are around 40 students.
Because of overcrowding, students graduate from
elementary school automatically, to free up space for new students. Failure
rates are around 40-50%, which also reflects the poor teaching they receive, due
to the fact that salaries for teachers are extremely poor, while hours are long.
Because living conditions are so poor, many young
people give up school to work illegally, in order to secure income for their
families. Others use drugs, crime or join politico-religious factions to gain
Palestinian children reportedly were forced to
leave school at an early age to help earn income. The U.N. estimated that 18
percent of street children in the country were Palestinian.
In Lebanon, public hospitals are largely
insufficient, and the majority of the population relies on private hospitals,
which cost too much for most Palestinians. UNRWA provides medical services in
24 private general hospitals, and one maternity and child care center. Basic
services are offered only in the areas of maternity, child care, family planning
and control of infectious and non-infectious disease.
Due to high levels of demand, UNRWA doctors have
had to see from 150-200 patients per day, and therefore cannot provide quality
UNRWA is barely able to meet the basic needs of
the Palestinian population; partial reimbursement (25% of the cost of hospital
treatment) is one of the coping mechanisms, which has resulted in cases of
Palestinians who have not been able to leave hospitals because they cannot pay
the costs of their stay.
Due to increasing populations and decreasing
funds, UNRWA has had to restrict its services, included suspending subsidies for
certain emergency treatments and medical staff, and reducing medical equipment
to Social Security
are de jure and de facto discriminated against in relation to
other non-citizens with regards to the right to work and the right to social
The Lebanese law on social security (26/09/63)
relating to foreigners, states that only foreigners who hold a work permit
and are from a State which applies the principal of reciprocity may claim social
security. As a result, Palestinian workers are excluded, even when they
have a work permit, as they cannot meet the principal of reciprocity criteria
because they are Stateless.
Lack of UNRWA funding
United Nations Relief and Works
Agency (UNRWA), Amnesty International and the Palestinian Human Rights
Organization have recognized that, as a result of this systematic
discrimination, Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon are almost entirely dependent on
UNRWA for basic services.
UNRWA is, however, unable to
provide these services, due to budget constraints. In their 2003 report to the
UN General Assembly, UNRWA describes the situation succinctly:
209. Demand for food
aid and cash for food assistance continued to rise as legal restrictions on
employment of Palestine refugees in Lebanon remained in force and prevailing
socio-economic conditions limited income-earning opportunities for refugees.
Since 1994, UNRWA has been
facing serious budget shortages which have affected the quality and scope of the
services it renders.
Statelessness: No United Nations Protection or any
other form of protection
Palestinian Refugees are the
only refugees in the world to exist solely under the mandate of the United
Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and therefore outside the realm of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in their host
countries. The consequence of this fact is one many do not comprehend.
The Palestinian Refugees become sidelined and marginalized, without hope for any
form of protection.
For over 50 years, [Palestinian refugees]
have been excluded from the international system for the protection of refugees.
The lack of
adequate assistance is only one of the failures of the international community
towards Palestinian refugees living in UNRWA's area of operation. Unlike other
refugees, they are not protected by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status
of Refugees or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Both
the 1951 Convention and the Statute of UNHCR exclude Palestinian refugees from
like the Lebanese law barring [Palestinian refugees] from owning property in
Lebanon, the Convention and the Statute do not explicitly exclude Palestinian
refugees; rather, they exclude anyone who receives assistance from other organs
of the United Nations. Here again, Palestinian refugees find themselves singled
Thus, because of their unique
situation, Palestinian refugees
in Lebanon have been denied virtually every available means of securing their
The exceptional condition of Palestinian
statelessness and Palestinian dispersal extends itself to all political,
economic, social and humanitarian spheres. UNRWA's mandate does not provide
protection for Palestinian refugees nor can they appeal to the assistance of
UNHCR whose mandate specifically exempts them from its protection. This
aberration is particularly significant, not only for refugees living under
Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, but also for those Palestinian
refugees who are temporary residents in various countries, mainly Lebanon, Syria
and Jordan (1). Thus, UNRWA's operations in these countries, the refugees' legal
status and their rights are subject to host government policies without recourse
to international agreements delineating refugee rights.
No Improvement in Sight
Harsh discriminatory practices by the Lebanese
government and the incapacity of lack of UNRWA to fulfill its mandate have
driven Palestinian refugees into a situation characterized by abject poverty,
isolation, and persecution.
This deplorable situation is also highly unlikely
to improve in the foreseeable future. Sherifa Sherfie noted that as recently
…the 18th of April 2003, during the meeting of
the newly formed Lebanese cabinet, President Lahoud stressed that Lebanon will
not back down on its insistence that Israel complies with the right of return of
the Palestinian refugees, and that it (Lebanon) rejects any plans for their
resettlement in Lebanon (tawteen)…At present, any resettlement (tawteen) of
Palestinian refugees is forbidden by the Lebanese Constitution.
This attitude is reflective of the official
Lebanese government position that Lebanon cannot and therefore will not
accommodate Palestinian refugees.