"If a Palestinian steals an onion, the whole world rises up, but if he asks for his rights, no one looks twice." (Mohammed, refugee in Lebanon, quoted in the Daily Star, Beirut, 20-9-2000)
In response to the critical situation in Lebanon, and the lack of opportunities for high school education in particular, refugees have been holding a
sit-in, which included a four-day hunger strike, since the beginning of September in front of the UNRWA building in Bir Hasan/Beirut. Approximately
50 students have been camping out overnight during the sit-in organized by the Follow-Up Committee for Palestinian Students, with crowds swelling
to as many as 500 during the day. The Committee previously held an 18-day hunger strike in 1997 to protest cuts in the UNRWA budget in
Since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, actual UNRWA expenditure per refugee has declined from US $179 to less than US $70 today affecting delivery of services in all areas - education, health, and welfare. The average classroom size in UNRWA schools in Lebanon has reached 60 students with two students per desk. UNRWA operates a single secondary school in the Beirut area, opened in the late 1990s, leaving the majority of refugee students with few options for secondary education. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon lack access to public sector schools while the cost of private education is often prohibitive. According to Nidal Abdel Al, head of the Student Committee, there are 1,000 students alone in the Badawi and Nahr al-Bared camps in the north that do not have a high school to attend.
The right to education is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and the Covenant on the Rights of the Child. Lebanon is signatory to all these conventions. As the designated international body for assistance to Palestinian refugees who are stateless, UNRWA is obligated to provide education.
The Student Follow-Up Committee and other refugee organizations have been lobbying UNRWA officials and donor countries for more funding. UNRWA promised to raise the issue during the host-donor country meeting in Amman at the end of September, and students say they will wait to see the results before deciding on future actions. Meanwhile Palestinian refugees and human rights activists around the world have been sending letters to UNRWA calling for appropriate funding until the refugee situation is resolved according to international law and UN resolutions. Letters of support can also be addressed to the students in Lebanon.
* Write to UNRWA:
Write to UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen expressing support for the Palestinian students' right to education. Ask UNRWA to pass on your concern to the donor governments and to ensure that they provide sufficient resources to meet the international community's obligation to the Palestinian refugees.
Commissioner-General Peter Hansen
* Send Messages of Solidarity to Children in Lebanon: