By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
For more than a month, the Lebanese have been out in massive and continuous popular protests against the political system, and against what they consider as corruption that could lead to economic collapse. For the living conditions have worsened, and purchasing power has fallen to unprecedented levels.
If this is the suffering of the Lebanese, the citizens of this country, who enjoys all political, social, economic and legal rights, in addition to health care and social security. Then what about the Palestinian refugee in this country, who was already living in miserable conditions, before the outbreak of the crisis and the eruption of the popular movement. Palestinians have been living in a society where the law severely deprives them of the right to work in many occupations, and of normal civil rights that allow them to live a decent life. The current crisis has shaken even the little that the Palestinians—who have jobs—get, hence crushing them under the “mill” of unemployment and poverty, which roams the majority of the Palestinians of Lebanon.
According to a survey launched in 2015, by the American University of Beirut (AUB), together with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 65% of Palestine refugees from Lebanon live in poverty, the unemployment ( among the working force) rate stands at 56%, 62% of them are moderately or severely food insecure, and 81% of Palestine refugees households have at least one member with a chronic illness. The UNRWA services barely meet the minimum needs of Palestinians, and that there is a significant lack of educational, health, social and infrastructure services in the refugee camps.
In the summer of 2019, the decision of the Lebanese Minister of Labor to be more strict concerning work permits and the interpretation of the labor law, have increased the suffering of Palestine refugees. These refugees were expecting rather a breakthrough concerning their work permits, for the Lebanese political parties agreed to improve the situation of refugees and solve most of their problems, in an approach made by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), which issued the document containing such agreement, in January 2017. The minister’s decision, and the way it was implemented, caused widespread frustration, and more restrictions, because of which many Palestinians have lost their livelihoods. Consequently, for more than two months, a wave of widespread civil protests erupted.
The Aggravation of the Suffering:
The current economic crisis that preceded and accompanied the protests, has been a severe blow to what is left of Palestinian resilience. In more than a month of protests, the Lebanese currency has depreciated by about a third against the dollar, most of the traffic was disrupted, banks were closed most of the days, the people became unable to withdraw limited amounts from their bank accounts. They became no longer able to receive full transfers from their relatives from abroad. At the same time, many employers laid off their Palestinian employees, as a result of declining sales or the disruption of their businesses. All this was accompanied by price increases, deteriorating purchasing power, and some goods were not available anymore. As for the institutions that kept their employees, they either couldn’t give them their salaries, or gave them half of it or so.
Consequently, the accumulation of suffering of Palestinians in Lebanon, and the further deterioration of the already deteriorating situation, have led to thousands of new humanitarian situations of extreme poverty, which can hardly find a meal or a loaf of bread, in addition to a large number of people, who cannot afford medical treatment, especially those dying slowly from incurable diseases such as cancer and kidney failure. A large number of Palestinians have either been expelled or threatened with eviction from their rented apartments, not to mention the thousands who failed to pay fees for schools and universities.
Dues and Risks:
Under such circumstances, there are concerns that the emigration of the Palestinians from Lebanon will increase severely, having lost already about 300 thousand or, in other words, more than half of Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon (Registered refugees are more than 540 thousand, while the estimates of those who are actually in Lebanon are around 250 thousand).
Second, there are fears that the US will continue to pressure for the implementation of the “deal of the century,” and seek to settle the remaining Palestinians in Lebanon, in order to close the refugee file in the Palestinian Israeli negotiations.
Third, it is feared that poverty, unemployment, misery, frustration and the closure of doors in the face of the Palestine refugee, will lead to widespread social and psychological problems, moral and behavioral deviation, or would lead some to join extremist movements.
Fourth, this situation makes it easier for some parties to try to exploit people’s conditions and recruit unemployed youth for their own agendas. They may be used also to fuel these parties’ competition, and internal and external interference. However, Palestinians so far have demonstrated high awareness, by distancing themselves from Lebanese internal affairs.
The Required Role:
If the situation of the Palestine refugees already deserves much attention from the Arab, Muslim and foreign countries to solve their dilemmas, now the need is more urgent, requiring at least an urgent emergency system to cope with the thousands of families who are suffering.
What is required of UNRWA is to mobilize its efforts and call on donors to provide emergency aid to refugees, in the amount that covers their needs for at least six months.
Charities concerned with the affairs of Palestinians in Lebanon must quickly present specific projects to Arab, Islamic and international charities, in order to support them; such as the food basket for the poor projects, medical relief projects, and covering the costs of education, productive projects, orphans sponsorship and others.
Supporting the Palestinians of Lebanon is not just a case of humanitarian support, rather it is the support of the steadfastness of one of the most important Palestine refugee communities. They are one of the most vital Palestinian communities that have been patient and scarifying for decades. They represent some of the biggest evidence of the Zionist gangs crime of displacing the people of Palestine. They are one of the biggest proofs of Palestinians abroad clinging to their right of return to their homes from which they were evicted. It is a necessary support in order to face the “deal of the century” and the plots of “resettlement” and displacement. Furthermore, the severe blows to the Palestinian communities in Iraq and Syria (and prior to that in Libya) increase the importance and vitality of preserving Palestinian presence in Lebanon.
This article was originally published in Arabic on “Arabi 21” on 25/11/2019.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 27/11/2019