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Palestinian-Syrian refugees face hardship in Lebanon

About 60,000 Palestinian-Syrians have fled to Lebanon, but many are finding that they cannot work and cannot afford food and housing.
A Palestinian refugee boy from Syria plays with a tyre as another boy walks past tents at Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp near the port-city of Sidon, southern Lebanon October 8, 2013. International donors must do more to help Lebanon absorb a flood of refugees straining its schools and public services, the head of the United Nations children's fund UNICEF said. Picture taken October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho (LEBANON - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTX14YGG

BEIRUT — It's no secret that the longtime Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are suffering from poor economic and social conditions as a result of the decreasing aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and from Lebanese laws that prevent these refugees from working in 73 professions.

This suffering is worsening following the displacement of more than 1 million Syrians to Lebanon, along with about 60,000 Palestinian refugees who lived in Syria and moved to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where they are competing with the original camp residents over the scarce living space and work opportunities available.

Anis Mohsen, Palestinian researcher specialized in Palestinian affairs and editorial secretary of the Journal of Palestine Studies, told Al-Monitor that some of the displaced Syrians and Palestinian-Syrians who can afford it have rented homes inside the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. This has raised rents in the already overcrowded camps and led to chaotic and dangerous construction with many camp residents illegally building additional floors and renting them out, causing a risk of building collapse.

“Construction workers and street vendors inside the camps are affected by the competition of Palestinian-Syrians," Mohsen said. "Outside the camps, however, the Palestinian-Syrians do not work and therefore do not pose a threat to the Palestinian-Lebanese.”

Outside the camps, rents have risen at an astronomical rate since early 2012 after the massive influx of Syrians and Palestinian-Syrians into Lebanon. A house that was rented for $100 is now rented for at least $350, according to real estate experts.

Palestinian-Syrian researcher Nabil Sahli told Al-Monitor that the displacement of a large number of Syrians and about 42,000 (remaining) Palestinians to Lebanon has placed much pressure on the Lebanese economy and its already limited resources. Sahli stressed, however, that the impact of the displaced Palestinians was lower at all levels and attributed this to the fact that Syrians are allowed to work in Lebanon, while displaced Palestinians from Syria are not.

Sahli, himself a displaced Palestinian from Syria working with the Monitoring Committee for Palestinian Refugees from Syria to Lebanon, said that there are negative consequences to the Palestinian-Syrian exodus to the camps. Some have managed to find work in the camps, earning low wages, though not as low as the wages earned by Palestinian camp workers.

Hanan, a Palestinian activist and journalist, told Al-Monitor that many camp residents are complaining about the declining aid from various organizations including UNRWA following the exodus from Syria to Lebanon, especially to the camps, which makes the situation difficult for the displaced Syrians and Palestinians.

Hanan said that there is animosity among some of the Palestinian refugees toward the displaced Syrians and Palestinian-Syrians, who compete over housing and job opportunities. She added that some Palestinians are working in Lebanon to sustain themselves on very low wages of sometimes not even $10 a day.

Sahli blamed the Lebanese government for not developing relief plans and failing to coordinate with the relevant international organizations regarding assistance to the displaced from Syria. This, he said, has hindered the careful, wise and transparent delivery of aid to them.

Sahli said that the total number of Palestinians displaced from Syria to Lebanon had reached about 60,000 by the beginning of 2013, and these were mainly concentrated in the Palestinian camps of Ain al-Hilweh and Mieh Mieh in Sidon, in Shamali Tower, in Rashidieh camp in Tyre and in Nahr al-Bared and Beddawi camps in the city of Tripoli, northern Lebanon. Some are housed in Shatila and Burj el-Barajneh, which are Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut.

Sahli explained that a significant number of displaced Palestinians from Syria have decided to live in the camps. The main reason for this is that each refugee camp tends to house families of the same villages or towns in Palestine (before 1948), and so the social factor often decides the (temporary) settlement of the displaced. Sahli said also that some displaced have settled down in Lebanese towns, especially in Sidon, the Bekaa Valley and Iklim el-Kharoub.

Sahli recalled that at the beginning of the Palestinian exodus from Syria, several charities in Lebanon were distributing food aid to the displaced. These charities, however, gradually faded away. As for some Palestinian committees and organizations, their mediating role — on a three-month rotation basis — was limited to distributing food aid, funded by countries such as Denmark, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Sahli said that UNRWA was responsible for providing health and education services to displaced Palestinians from Syria in Lebanon, and pointed out that, in the beginning the financial assistance provided to the families was nonperiodic and nonspecific. In early 2014, UNRWA issued cards for each Palestinian family displaced from Syria to Lebanon. It allocated a $100 monthly rent allowance and a $30 food allowance for each member of the family. However, UNRWA’s decision in September to suspend cash assistance in early October under the pretext of ensuring the continuation of support for the more needy took the displaced by surprise.

According to Sahli, the decision will affect 1,100 Palestinian families displaced from Syria and will subsequently worsen the suffering of about 6,000 displaced Palestinians, including children under 15 who account for more than 45% of them. This will lead to the return of hundreds of families to Syria.

Sahli said that the number of displaced Palestinians from Syria does not exceed 35,000 as many have returned to Syria because of the increasingly harsh conditions in Lebanon and the recent measures imposed on the movement of Syrians on the Syrian-Lebanese border. Others moved on to Europe via the maritime “death flights."

Sahli believes that the PLO is responsible for the worsening suffering of displaced Palestinians as it failed to develop a contingency plan in conjunction with UNRWA to reduce their suffering.

Moreover, the Palestinian factions have not seriously worked with the Lebanese government regarding promoting equality between the Syrians and Palestinians upon entering the crossing from Syria to Lebanon and vice versa. It also has not discussed the expensive residency permits that the displaced have to renew every three months.

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