Fadia’s family lives in the Beddawi refugee camp in Lebanon. (UNRWA photo)
"I lost my seven-month-old baby girl because she had a heart condition. It was difficult to afford to follow up with a specialist due to our extreme financial situation.” These are the words of Fadia Taha (49), a grieving mother who is caught in the grips of Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in generations.
In Lebanon, currency devaluation, rising inflation and fuel and electricity shortages are impacting the safety and wellbeing of all the country’s inhabitants, including more about 210,000 Palestine refugees from Lebanon (PRL) and Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS).
The crises that have accumulated since 2019 have affected all segments of society, contributing to rising unemployment and food insecurity. Today, an estimated 73 per cent of individuals, nearly three quarters of the Palestine refugee population, live below the poverty line, according to UNRWA.
Fadia herself is a Palestine refugee from Lebanon who lives in the Beddawi refugee camp with her family of four. Her two children Qamar and Mousa live with a disability and she herself is hearing impaired. She also suffers from diabetes, for which she regularly receives medications from the UNRWA health centre in her camp.
Her husband Mounir lost his daily-paid job in a scrap yard due to fuel and electricity shortages. He was also at risk of contracting hepatitis or the life-threatening COVID-19 virus. “He was not able to see what he was touching in the trash bin due to the complete electricity outage,” Fadia told UNRWA.
The rising prevalence of COVID-19 cases in Lebanon has led to a further loss of livelihoods amongst the Palestine refugee community, the members of which are already deprived of basic social and economic rights due to their civil status. A February 2021 study showed Palestine refugees, many of whom live in densely populated camps and experience poor baseline health, were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with Palestine refugees in Lebanon three times more likely to die of the coronavirus.
“We are living in a bad and difficult situation in Lebanon. We wait for UNRWA assistance every three months in order to buy food and medicines for my children, which costs around one million Lebanese lira (approximately US$ 50) every month,” she said. “How can I secure my children’s livelihood if I have to wait three months to give them a meal of meat or to buy medicine?”
Although UNRWA in Lebanon is struggling to meet the needs of a vulnerable refugee population, the UNRWA Social Safety Net Programme (SSNP) provides critical relief to thousands of Palestine refugee families. Under this programme, Fadia and her family receive $32.5 per person every three months.
"The Lebanese crisis is affecting us badly, just like it is affecting the Lebanese themselves, and even more so,” concludes Fadia. “We hope that more Palestine refugees will qualify for regular assistance and ask UNRWA to respond to peoples requests for access to the social safety net programme as the only way to guarantee a safe and dignified life.”
To meet the rising demand for economic assistance, the Agency has begun the roll out of cash assistance to provide economic relief to Palestine refugees in Lebanon. As of 3 September, families of children between the ages of 0-5 and 6-18 will receive US$ 40 in cash assistance through LibanPost offices. This cash assistance has also been made available for families of disabled persons registered with UNRWA, as well as to Palestine refugees being treated for thalassemia, cancer and kidney failure. However, this is a one-off round of assistance and falls short to the real needs of the community.
Over 470,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon. About 45 per cent of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps. Conditions in the camps are dire and characterized by overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to justice.
Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy several important rights; for example, they cannot work in many 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.