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Home al-Majdal Palestinian Refugees: Reclaiming the Right of Return (Spring 1999) Palestinians in Lebanon – A Struggle for a Future with Hope

Palestinians in Lebanon – A Struggle for a Future with Hope

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Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are trapped in a situation characterized by the collapse of their traditional support systems (PLO and UNRWA) on the one hand, and the impossibility of self-sustenance caused by the Lebanese denial of social and civil rights on the other.

Palestinians, defined as foreigners by Lebanese law, are not permitted to work as professionals. Engineers, technicians, physicians, lawyers, teachers, (in total more than 60 professions) cannot find legal employment outside the refugee camps. Lebanese employers violating the law run the risk of heavy fines, a risk for which they compensate themselves by paying low salaries and no social security fees to their illegal Palestinian employees.

Palestinians are not allowed to register enterprises, companies and institutions in Lebanon. They can do so only by recruiting Lebanese partners who have to represent a majority in the board of trustees. Palestinian ownership of small businesses inside the camps is tolerated; the possibilities for income generation there are marginal.

Unemployment among the Palestinian labor force is estimated at 30%, more than 50% depend on day labor in construction and agriculture, thus earning US $200-300 a month. Families survive with the support of relatives working abroad and by keeping consumption at a minimum. Palestinian families have no savings to cope with unexpected crisis, especially illness requiring hospitalization. Since UNRWA health services no longer cover expenses for medical treatment, the choice is between large personal debts and inadequate medical treatment.

UNRWA schools are the only existing educational option, except for a minority of Palestinian families who can provide their children with expensive education in Lebanese private schools. UNRWA’s budget crisis has brought primary education in the refugee camps to the verge of collapse. As part of its austerity measures, the class room/pupils ratio in UNRWA schools was raised to 60 children per class, all children enrolled in pre-school grade in 1998 skipped first grade in 1999 per administrative decree and are currently studying the curriculum of the second grade. Teachers, hired on short-term contracts only, are underqualified and unable to cope with the heavy workload. The students, half of whom never acquire minimum qualifications, are moved on to the next grade, until many of them decide to leave school for lack of incentives. Child labor among 10 – 17 year old Palestinians in Lebanon is estimated at some 12%.

Camp infrastructure and living conditions in the camps of the southern area around Sur are rapidly deteriorating due to the Lebanese policy of preventing entry of construction materials and supplies into the camps there (Rashidiyeh, Burj al-Shemali, and a number of smaller camps).

(For background and further details on Palestinians in Lebanon, see ARTICLE 74/ Issue No.26)

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