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Palestinian refugees are one of the world’s oldest refugee populations and, despite a well-established right under international law to return to their homeland – there is little prospect of this in the foreseeable future.

More than half of the Palestinian population is displaced, either living as refugees in other countries or internally displaced and remaining in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Excluded from the international legal norms regarding refugee rights, Palestinian refugees live subject to the restrictions of their host countries. Over 400 000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon, representing nearly ten percent of the country’s population. Commissioned by UNRWA, the American University of Beirut prepared a report called “Socio-Economic Survey of Palestinian Refugees in lebanon” issued on December 31, 2010. This report that “of the 425,000 refugees registered with UNRWA since 1948, only 260,000- 280,000 currently reside in Lebanon. More than half of the refugee population lives in camps (62%) as compared to 38% living in gatherings, mainly in camp vicinity. Unlike neighboring Syria and Jordan, the discrimination exercised by the Lebanese authorities denies Palestinian refugees equal rights with both the Lebanese population and other residing foreigners. As such, Palestinians in Lebanon are segregated; subjected to not only a legal void but also to a state of exception.


In the 1950s, Palestinians in Lebanon were considered to be an administrative artifact governed by the Prime Minister office’s Central Committee for Refugee Affairs. Nine years later they became a security artifact administrated by the Department of Palestinian Refugee Affairs (DPRA), created as an office within the Ministry of Interior. In 1962, Palestinian refugees were classified as foreigners and from the early 1990’s, the political, social and civil rights of Palestinians in Lebanon have diminished significantly. Their status is largely defined by their absence of rights.


62% of the Palestinians in Lebanon reside in the 12 refugee camps mandated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and governed by Popular Committees – a body consisting of representatives of political factions responsible for maintaining a moral authority and historically responsible for the provision of services and utilities. The officially demarcated, poverty-stricken camps are overcrowded and suffer from inadequate basic infrastructure. A restriction on horizontal expansion and four-fold increase in the original refugee population has had a severe impact on their situation.


38% of the Palestinian refugees also live in informal gatherings (settlements), predominately in rural areas, that fall outside the UNRWA mandate.


The discrimination faced by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is clearly evidenced by their lack of rights to housing, land and property ownership.


A Law published in 2001 amended the Presidential Decree of 1969 on Foreign Acquisition of Property (hereafter the 2001 Law). The amended Law prohibits people who do "not carry a citizenship issued by a recognized state" from securing legal title to housing and land (real rights) in Lebanon.


Whilst not specifically named, this modification clearly targets Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as effectively all stateless people in Lebanon are Palestinian.


Overnight, this decree prohibited Palestinians from the right to the ownership of land and property and precludes them from transferring already purchased property and their ability to inherit.


The 2007 conflict which resulted in the near total destruction of the Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp and surrounding areas currently presents a new challenge for the Lebanese Government relating to Palestinians’ land and property rights. Whilst having expressed a commitment to rebuild the camp, they face a delicate predicament; to rebuild whilst avoiding the creation of a new legal precedent.


The discriminatory stance of the Lebanese Government towards Palestinian refugees is born from an intricate political and social national and regional context. The fragile sectarian balance, the fear of naturalization of Palestinians and the right of return of Palestinians are commonly used to validate new and existing policies, laws and attitudes.


Based on the AUB/UNRWA survey, 53% of refugees are women and the Palestine refugee population is young, with an average age of 30 years, and half of the population is younger than 25 year-old. The average household size is 4.5 members, compared to 4.2 for Lebanese households.


Many Palestinian workers are discouraged from working: 56% of refugees are jobless and only 37% of the working age population is employed. The Palestinian refugee labor force reaches 120,000, of which 53,000 are working. Joblessness among refugees has a strong gender dimension: Only 13% of women are employed compared to 65% of men. Those with a job are often in low status, casual and precarious employment. Our survey shows that 21% of employed refugees work in seasonal employment, and only 7% of those employed have a contract. Very few have a second job (3%) indicating the scarcity of even low quality employment. Most refugees have low qualifications: 6% of the Palestinian labor force has university training, compared to 20% for the Lebanese labor force.


Though employment differs little across regions, quality of employment does. The share of those employed in low status elementary occupations is highest in Tyre while the share of high status professionals and senior officials is highest in the North. Nearly a quarter of workers in Tyre are employed in the agricultural sector and 87% of all agricultural workers live in Tyre.


Refugees face many challenges in their educational attainment. Survey results show that 8% of those between 7 and 15 years old were not at school in 2010. In addition to this, two thirds of Palestinians above the age of 15 do not have Brevet degree, compared to a Lebanese rate of 50%. Only 50% of youths in Secondary school age (16-18 years old) are enrolled in education. Half of those live in the South, though attendance varies significantly within regions.


As for higher education, only 13% of refugees older than 18 have the Baccalaureate or higher, compared to 17% for the Lebanese population.


The poverty line stands at US$ 6 a day, which allows covering basic food and non-food requirements (such as rent, transport, utilities etc.) of an adult Palestine refugee. This poverty line is based on that used by the Lebanese household survey in 2004 and by UNRWA in 2008, adjusted for inflation. Two thirds of Palestine refugees are poor, which equates to an estimated 160,000 individuals.


An extreme poverty threshold of US$ 2.17 allows purchasing enough food to satisfy the daily basic food needs of an adult Palestine refugee. 6.6% of Palestine refugees spend less than the monetary equivalent necessary to cover their basic daily food needs. This amounts to 16,000 individuals.


Saida and Tyre gather more than 81% of all extremely poor refugees, and a third of all poor live in Tyre. Though gatherings have generally lower poverty rates than camps, some gatherings in Tyre, such as Jal el Bahr or Qasmiyeh, have very high poverty rates, exceeding those of most camps. Considering that many Palestine refugees in Tyre work in agriculture and elementary professions, this indicates that these very poor gatherings are communities of agricultural laborers.


There are twice as many poor among Palestine refugees and occurrence of extreme poverty is four times higher as compared with the Lebanese population.


Overall poverty increases with the number of children and the family size.


All households that have a disabled household head (9% of the refugee population) are classified as extremely poor. Poverty is also significantly higher when the household head has low education (primary and below). Poverty incidence drops to 60.5% when the household head has an above primary educational attainment, and extreme poverty is almost divided by two.


Almost 160,000 refugees could not meet their basic food and non-food needs, and 16,000 refugees did not meet their essential food requirements (the extreme poor).



1) Legal Assessment of Palestinian HLP in Lebanon, prepared by DRC

2) Socio-economic Survey of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon, prepared by AUB/UNRWA






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