A virtual live discussion entitled, “The Impact of the Developments of the Lebanese Crisis on the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” was held on Zoom by al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations on 23/12/2020. Moderated by Wa’el Sa‘ad, the main speakers were Jaber Suleiman, the Palestinian refugee affairs expert, Prof. Dr. Sari Hanafi, the professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut, and Ziad ‘Abdel Samad, the executive director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND). In addition, a group of researchers, specialists and those interested in the Palestinian and Lebanese affairs participated in the discussion.
The opening statement was by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Muhammad Saleh, who welcomed the participants and examined the dire Palestinian living conditions in Lebanon, before the beginning of the Lebanese internal crisis in November 2019, and how it exacerbated upon deteriorating economic and social conditions and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jaber Suleiman presented a paper on the repercussions of the crisis on refugees, and referred to a UN report that expects the headcount poverty rate to jump from 28% in 2019 to 55% in 2020. The corresponding increase in extreme poverty is threefold from 8% to 23%. According to the Central Administration of Statistics, the consumer price index shows an inflation of 131% from September 2019 to September 2020.
Suleiman indicated that the economic crisis, since February 2020, had many repercussions including the fact that many institutions in Lebanon have laid off a large number of workers, reduced the wages of the remaining ones and dismissed non-Lebanese employees, Palestinians in particular. At the same time, there are reports indicating an increase in social and psychological unrest among Palestinian youth in the refugee camps, and in the desire to emigrate.
Suleiman also reviewed a study conducted by the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) in February 2020 on the social, economic and political impacts of the Lebanese crisis on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, including Palestinian refugees who came from Syria at the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011. It showed that 34.2% of the breadwinners of the family were dismissed, 47.6% of them work part-time, while 18.2% of them continue to work normally. As for the income of Palestinian families, the study showed that 49% of families have a monthly income of less than 500 thousand LBP (about $60), and that 72.4% of the refugees surveyed confirmed their inability to pay the substitution in the medical bill, in accordance with the UNRWA treatment system.
Suleiman discussed the role and responsibility of UNRWA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), other Palestinian factions and the Lebanese government towards strengthening the resilience of refugees facing the crisis. He pointed out that UNRWA’s support of refugees decreased dramatically in 2020 due to the decline in international financial support to the Agency, adding that the support provided by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority to the Palestinian people in Lebanon during the crisis is not compatible with the needs resulting from the crisis. He stressed that the Lebanese state did not include the Palestinian refugees in the aid package it granted to poor Lebanese families, although the Lebanese President Michel Aoun has confirmed that the government “will provide protection to citizens and residents.”
Prof. Dr. Sari Hanafi has stressed that there is failure in the general policies of the Lebanese government and an absence of political will in dealing with the Palestinian refugee dossier in Lebanon, despite the abundance of many important studies dealing with the Palestinian file that provide all the required data. He added that not all forces in Lebanon had actually sought to enforce measures and laws to improve the conditions of Palestinian refugees. Therefore, the discourse must be directed to the Lebanese parties in order to pressure them to improve their actions and support the rights of Palestinian refugees. We must also lobby the international community to put pressure on the Lebanese government to improve the conditions of the Palestinians.
In the intervention of Ziad ‘Abdel Samad, he stressed that the Lebanese host state is responsible for the Palestinian refugees, however, the Lebanese political division led to their neglect, especially since the Lebanese parties bargain over internal Lebanese files. He added that the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon at the beginning of the Syrian crisis had negatively affected Lebanese and Palestinian workers in Lebanon. He warned that the Palestinian refugees would be affected by lifting subsidies on basic commodities, namely subsidized food commodities, medicines, medical supplies and fuel; especially since this file is subject to sectarian and partisan quotas in Lebanon, and there is no one who would demand for the Palestinians their basic living rights.
The interventions of other participants emphasized the need to develop programs and policies that would shed light on the refugee situation, establish mechanisms to activate this file, and develop plans to alleviate the suffering of refugees and strengthen their resilience. Those participants included Marwan ‘Abdul ‘Aal, Suhail al-Natour, Walid Muhammad ‘Ali, ‘Ali Howaidy, Hisham Ya‘coub, Yassir ‘Ali, Mohsen Saleh and Walid Salem.
The panelists recommended the following:
• The UNRWA must mobilize support and issue urgent appeals to meet the immediate needs of Palestinian refugees in the near term.
• Establishing a social and economic safety net in the medium term to secure Palestinian basic living rights.
• The current and future Lebanese governments need to adopt a responsible and transparent policy towards Palestinian refugees.
• The PLO must establish a special “relief fund” to help the refugee community in Lebanon overcome the repercussions of the crisis. Furthermore, Palestinian businessmen in Palestine and the diaspora are called to finance this fund.
• “The Joint Palestinian Action Committee,” established in 2018, must be activated, not only as a political reference, but also as an economic and social one.
• Restoring the relationship between the Palestinian refugees and the Lebanese influential figures and parties.
• The Lebanese national programs to overcome the economic crisis must include the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and ways to assist them.