Thursday, June 3, 2010

LEBANON: Palestinian Refugees Face Systematic Discrimination In Lebanon

By: Simba Russeau

Beirut - Denied access to social services, education, adequate housing and employment, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continue to suffer discrimination, marginalization and treatment as “second-class citizens.”

More than half of the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been forced to live in segregated ghettos since they were forced to flee their lands and homes to Lebanon after the creation of Israel in 1948.

“All the Palestinians just want security, freedom and justice,” says Fatima, a local resident of the Nahr Al Bared refugee camp. “What happened to my grandfather, my father and my brother is happening to us now. Do the youth have to experience the same situation as our parents?”

Daily life for Palestinians involves dealing with the pains of living in exile and the systematic discrimination they face in Lebanon.

“We are homeless from our country so let us live with freedom and safety. Is this treatment only for the Palestinian people? Is it because the Palestinians don’t have a leader? It’s a shame,” she adds.

All 12 of the official refugee camps in Lebanon suffer from inadequate infrastructure, overcrowding, poverty and high unemployment.

“Lebanon has one of the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees who are living in abject poverty and who are registered with the Agency’s ‘special hardship’ programme,” the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Rights in the Near East (UNRWA) issued in a press statement.

Lebanon, as a member of the Arab League, officially recognizes the State of Palestine. However, the reciprocity law, which permits foreigners to work in Lebanon if they are nationals of a State that opens their labour market to Lebanese nationals, has created obstacles for Palestinians in finding employment due to their stateless status.

“The continuing restrictions which deny Palestinian refugees access to their rights to work, education and adequate housing and health are wholly unjustified and should be lifted without further procrastination or delay,” says Amnesty International.

At a press conference in Beirut last week, Amnesty International (AI) released a new 31-page report, “Exiled and Suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.” In the report, Amnesty International urged the Lebanese government to fully protect and uphold the basic human rights of Palestinian refugees.

“We urge the Lebanese government to take immediate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against Palestinian refugees in order to enable them to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights on the same basis as the rest of the population of Lebanon.”

In 2005, the Lebanese government lifted a ban on 50 of the 70 professions declared off-limits to Palestinians but only a few can afford the $700 needed for work permits.

“Palestinians are spending not lest than a $1000 a month in Lebanon while Syrians, Egyptians, Sri Lankis and Filipinos do not spend their money here. They collect their salary and send it to their country. They eat with the family they work for,” says Samira Salah, Director of the Communities for Civil Rights Campaign. “We are trying to remind the Lebanese government of how integrating Palestinians into the Lebanese society contributes to the local economy.”

Heightened Tensions

Since the 15-week Nahr Al Bared clashes, which displaced over 30,000 residents and killed more than 400 people, many Palestinians have reported being abused and threatened by soldiers at checkpoints on account of their identity.

“What is happening is that the Lebanese Army and the internal security forces are basically looking upon Palestinians as a threat,” says Rania Masri, Assistant professor in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Balamand in Lebanon.

Many Lebanese blame the Palestinians for allowing Fatah al-Islam into Nahr Al Bared and warned that reconstruction and their return could reignite similar violence. However, some analysts believe that there will be a renewed cooperation in the reconstruction effort.

“This is the first time that the Palestinian leadership is working with the Lebanese government to improve security in the camps. This should turn a new page in the history of Palestinian-Lebanese relations in Lebanon and ease hostilities of the civil war years,” says Paul Salem, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “This should also coax the Lebanese government to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon social and economic rights.”

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