On Thursday, 22 September, approximately 150 Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrian individuals chose to face the danger of the sea in a death boat, rather than remain in the dire living conditions they experience in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the boat sank, and the number of individuals that lost their lives seeking refuge from the situation in Lebanon reached 94 today.
Death boats are not new and are a direct consequence of the international community’s failure to provide protection to Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Lebanon’s current severe and unprecedented economic and financial crisis has had a detrimental impact on Palestinian refugees, whose civil, social, and economic rights have been denied by the host country since the beginning of their forcible displacement during the Nakba. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are facing rapidly increasing levels of food insecurity, unemployment, poor housing conditions, poverty, as well as a lack of access to health services, gas, electricity, and heating due to discriminatory legislation. As noted by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, “most [Palestinian refugees] have lived in the country for generations, since 1948, yet they still have an ambivalent legal status and live at the margins of society.”
With an underfunded United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that is constantly facing Israeli-led attacks and defamation campaigns aimed at delegitimizing and securitizing the Agency, UNRWA is becoming less able to provide adequate services to all Palestinian refugees. This is particularly so considering that most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon depend on UNRWA schools for education due to high schooling expenses elsewhere, as well as health care due to their inability to access the public health system in the country.
Addressing UNRWA's chronic budget crisis is an urgent need that must be given the utmost priority. It is essential to have an effective mechanism set and approved by the UN General Assembly and binding on member states to ensure a stable and adequate budget for UNRWA. This mechanism should preserve the political dimension of the Palestinian refugee issue and affirm international responsibility for them until UN Resolution 194 of 1948 is enforced.
When States are unwilling or unable to fulfill their responsibility to protect their citizens and others within their jurisdiction, the responsibility of the international community and international protection therefore must come into play to ensure that the basic rights of refugees are respected. So long as Israel continues to violate its obligations and the human rights of the Palestinian people, Palestinian refugees remain entitled to comprehensive international protection, including intervention by the UNHCR.
The PLO, rather than taking steps to ensure the protection of their rights, has prioritized upholding diplomatic relations with the Lebanese government at the expense of the rights of Palestinian refugees. Instead, it is incumbent on the PLO to develop a comprehensive approach for the protection of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (and in other host countries) in order to ensure that their rights are upheld and protected. This is a core part of their duty as the official representative of the Palestinian people, regardless of their geographic location.
To address the protracted displacement that has left Palestinian refugees in Lebanon without access to their civil, social, and economic rights, it is necessary for each of the relevant parties - that are: the PLO and the international community, particularly the United Nations, Lebanon, and Israel - to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities enshrined in both international and regional treaties towards Palestinian refugees.
 United Nations General Assembly, “Visit to Lebanon,” Report by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, 11 April 2022, A/HRC/50/38