A Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon [File photo]
Palestinian refugees and human rights activists continue to level heavy criticism at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) over delays in humanitarian aid delivery.
A number of refugees said UNRWA has been using the funding crisis as a clichéd pretext for delayed aid distribution, saying their humanitarian situation in the Middle Eastern country has sharply deteriorated.
The refugees added that UNRWA should have delivered aid dispatched by the European Trust Fund and the World Food Program. They pointed the finger at UNRWA officials whom they said have been benefiting from the deposited sums.
UNRWA has identified Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as one of the most marginalized and poorest communities in the region.
Human rights groups continue to sound alarm bells over the deteriorating humanitarian condition endured by the Palestinian refugee community in camps set up across the Lebanese territories.
The situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the recent explosion that struck Beirut’s seaport.
Conditions in the camps are dire and characterized by overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to justice.
Over 470,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with 180,000 estimated for planning purposes to be residing in the country. About 45 per cent of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps.
In Lebanon, there are currently 12 Palestinian camps hosting over 50% of the almost half a million refugees: four in and near Beirut (Burj al-Barajne, Shatila, Dbayeh, and Mar Elias), two in Tripoli (Beddawi and Nahr al-Bared), three near Tyre (Burj Shemali, El-Bass and Rashidiyeh), two near Saida (Ein el-Helwe and Mieh Mieh) and one near Baalbek (Wavel).
The camps, especially in Beirut and the south of Lebanon, suffered immensely during the Lebanese Civil War and from the conflict with Israel. Three camps (two in Beirut and one in Nabatiyeh) were destroyed, and a fourth camp (Gouraud, Baalbek) was evacuated.
Last year, Shahed Organization for Human Rights warned of a famine to strike Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where the socio-economic situation has taken a turn for the worse.
According to information collected by UNRWA, more than 70 per cent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon indicate that the Agency’s cash assistance is their main source of income. The majority of refugees are food insecure and live in poverty.
The lack of a valid legal status, often coupled with outdated civil registration documents, results in severely restricted freedom of movement for some Palestinian refugees in Lebanon due to fear of arrest, detention and being issued a departure order.
Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy several important rights; for example, they cannot work in as many as 39 professions and cannot own property (real estate). Because they are not formally citizens of another state, Palestine refugees are unable to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon.
At the same time, the conflict in Syria has forced many Palestine refugees from Syria to flee to Lebanon in search of safety. Nearly 29,000 of them are receiving UNRWA assistance in the country, including cash assistance, education, health care, and protection.