PARD works with the most disadvantaged communities, including Palestinian refugees, Syrian displaced families and poor Lebanese. Our main areas of operation are gatherings of Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and Southern Lebanon. PARD also works in Beirut areas of Bourj hammoud and Karantina, while during crisis PARD extends its activities to cover the people affected by the crisis all over Lebanon.
Over the past decade, international and local organizations working with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have begun to rely on the terminology of Palestinian gatherings in order to refer to areas outside the twelve official Palestinian refugee camps where a large percentage of Palestinian refugees live in relatively vulnerable conditions. Although most of these refugees are registered with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, and/or with the Lebanese Government, their place of settlement is not officially recognized. As a result, refugees living in most gatherings suffer from even more precarious living conditions than their counterparts in camps. Their tenure security is frequently threatened by the absence of a framework of rights and entitlement to recognize and protect their settlements. At the same time, UNRWA’s mandate to provide basic urban services, mainly WASH, is defined within the boundaries of the Palestine refugee camps only. Despite these differences, however, research indicates that Palestinians in gatherings and in camps have a profound sense of identification that connects them together as a similar community so that the legal and administrative distinctions between Palestine refugee camps and gatherings in Lebanon are not typically paralleled by the perceptions of the refugees themselves. All in all, an estimated 140 thousand refugees live in Lebanon’s 42 Palestinian gatherings, including 30 thousand new refugees from Syria, most of which are Palestinian.
Despite the prevalence of the terminology of “gatherings” in recent reports and research among Palestinian refugees, the list and number of gatherings is inconsistent across research and reports and typically depends on the definition adopted by the relief agency that has commissioned one study or another. Palestinian gatherings are defined in line with the 2003 FAFO report, to be areas having a population of Palestinian refugees whether they are registered with UNRWA and/or the Lebanese Government or not, having no official UNRWA camp status or any legal authority identified with responsibility for camp management, areas expecting a clearly defined humanitarian and protection needs, having a minimum of 25 households, and areas having a population with a sense of being a distinct group living in a geographically identified area. Within this definition, and building on the Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA) conducted by UNDP and UN-Habitat in partnership with PARD during the summer of 2013, it was identified that a total of 42 Palestinian gatherings distributed along the regions of Beirut, Beqaa, Saida, Tyre and the North. These gatherings were inhabited originally by about 110 thousand dwellers, the great majority of whom (93%) are Palestinian Refugees, prior to the break of the Syrian crisis. With the wave of refugees’ arrival from Syria to Lebanon, these gatherings were the destination of another 30 thousand inhabitants of which those of Palestinian origins reached around 26 thousand. The 42 gatherings are spread over five Lebanese regions, namely Saida, Tyre, the North, Beqaa, and Beirut respectively, while being concentrated particularly in Saida and Tyre, which make up alone for about two-thirds of the gatherings.
Twelve of these gatherings are located in close vicinity to camps and were typically produced as a spillover of the camps during periods of political unrest (1970-1990). These gatherings are referred to as “Camps’ Adjacent Areas or AAs” and distinguished from other settlements since they benefit more easily, due to their proximity, from social services typically extended by UNRWA such as healthcare and schooling, but still do not fall within the radius of infrastructure provision. Each of these areas displays a similar morphology. In the early 1950s a central population core is formed by the refugee camps established in by UNRWA and is surrounded by an array of two or more extensions that each holds the particular name of a “gathering” without behaving entirely as a separate entity. The largest of these agglomerations, Ain el-Helweh, counts eight such neighborhoods, each of which was developed in specific circumstances mainly during the early 1970s. Adjacent areas reflect both the influx of Palestinian refugees from other camps destroyed during the years of civil war (e.g. Tall ez-Zaatar, Nabatiyyeh) and the so-called war of the camps (1984-1989), or the natural growth of neighborhoods that have not been officially expanded despite high demographic rates and over seventy years of settlement.
The other gatherings were largely established between 1948 and 1955 and coincide with the early arrival of Palestinians in Lebanon. These gatherings typically house refugees of Bedouin origins who, it is believed, had historically selected those settlements because their lifestyle (breeding animals) was incompatible with the high density living imposed in the camps and because they were eager to live together as extended families (Stell 2013).
There are also several instances where gatherings were established later in order to house Palestinian refugees who had fled the violence of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) and/or the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This is the case for instance of the Marj Settlement in central Beqaa that housed refugees who fled from the South during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Hamshari (Saida) was established in 1986 by Palestinians fleeing the war of the camps for a safer haven, and Sheem (1978/79) that housed families who fled the Tall ez-Zaatar refugee camp upon its destruction in 1976.
Since March 2011, camps and gatherings throughout Lebanon have been hosting an increasing number of Palestinian and Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. The vast majority of refugee families arriving to camps and gatherings are Palestinian Refugees from Syria, who have arrived into gatherings and camps typically following family and social relations. According to a needs assessment conducted by UNRWA in 2014, about 29% of these refugee families are hosted by relatives and friends in already crowded venues while 71% are paying rent. The majority of these refugees live in poor conditions, whereby at least a quarter of them are in very poor quality housing not designed for residence (ANERA 2013, Mercy Corp 2013).
At least three reasons explain the arrival of refugees to these areas, the first explanation relates to the history of Palestinian refugee settlement in the region, whereby numerous ties had connected Palestinian refugees across borders. Around 29% of the Palestinian Refugees from Syria arriving into Lebanon are hosted by friends and relatives, referred to as Palestinian Refugees from Lebanon who, as noted above, frequently bear additional expenses and share available and limited resources without much support.
The second explanation stems from the patterns of housing in the city and the mode through which refugees have arrived to Lebanon. Already before the war in Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrian laborers lived and worked in the country. As a low-income, relatively poor group, Syrians typically rented facilities in the cheapest venues of the city, mainly camps, but also informal settlements including some gatherings more generally. In the absence of public subsidies or a policy encouraging the production of affordable housing, all housing arrangements were secured within this informal segment of the land and housing market. As a result, both camps and gatherings were connected to the cities’ housing markets through the mobility of these workers who frequently went across camps and settlements indiscriminately, looking for shelter near the employment opportunities they could secure.
The last reason for the influx of Palestinian as well as Syrian refugees in the camps is the outcome of the structures of the labor market that leaves very little opportunities for Palestinians to generate income. As a result, the possibility of generating income through renting rooms or apartments, even if at the expense of one’s living conditions, is usual in these neighborhoods. Whenever possible, both camp and gathering dwellers resort to adding units to their already congested, structurally unsound buildings to rent out. The result is a dramatic deterioration of the living conditions which is particularly seen in Beirut.