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Palestinians fleeing Syria to difficult times in Lebanon

Um Mohammed hopes to one day return to her house in Yarmouk.

While war rages in Syria, large numbers of refugees put pressure on neighboring countries like Lebanon. Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria are among the weakest.

Um Mohammed, a Syrian-Palestinian who fled from Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, is now living in Shatilla camp in Beirut with her sons, daughters and grandchildren – a total of 25 individuals. Her story and poor living condition in the overcrowded refugee camp is what most Syrian-Palestinians share in Lebanon. “I grew up and got married in Yarmouk, now my house is demolished and the war has caused all the working members of my family to become jobless refugees in Lebanon” she grieves as she is standing in line to receive food parcels from NPAs partner organization Basmeh and Zaitooneh.

Um Mohammed is one of 1.2 million registered refugees in Lebanon – a country of 4.2 million – which makes Lebanon currently the country in the world with the most refugees per capita.

Increased violence

Lebanon’s violent past is once again being mirrored in current events as enormous pressure is being put on Lebanese society with widespread violence and tension throughout the small country. The Shiite group Hezbollah’s engagement in neighboring Syria has further polarized Lebanon’s political division over the Syrian conflict sporadic violence has erupted in many places over the country in the wake of these events. Clashes between different groups and the Lebanese army have become a grueling tendency, and bombings have been frequent in the Lebanese capital.

Increased violence and an enormous displaced refugee population is causing immense political and economic burdens to the already fragile country.  Lebanon is completely dependent on international aid in order to cope with the developing humanitarian crises, and 262 million US dollars has so far in 2014 been given in aid to Lebanon according to the UNHCR. The Syrian refugees are scattered all over Lebanon, living wherever they can find suitable shelter including over 1,200 self-built camps and are suffering from widespread unemployment as almost one third of the refugees can’t find jobs. The desperate living situation for the refugee population is having a considerable effect on the 250,000 Palestinian refugees already residing in Lebanon, whose poor living existence is worsening as a result of the large influx of Syrians and 53,000 additional Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS).

NPA support to Palestinians

“The main aim for NPA Lebanon is to support all Palestinian refugees in every single aspect of life, food, health, education and such” NPA Program Manger Hani Anouti underscores. “The Syrian-Palestinians are the most vulnerable group among the different refugee groups arriving from Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan and therefore we have doubled our efforts in order to secure funds and a dignified existence for the Palestinians coming from the Syrian crisis”. However, the current political climate is making it increasingly difficult for the civil society to perform its work as the unstable environment is making it dangerous to travel around in the various Palestinian refugee camps and in Lebanon in general. “The atmosphere is challenging for us, and the current situation is affecting our work because it is “generating a stressful environment”, but the largest challenge to our work is the decreased funding for our cause.” Anouti continues. In order to address this issue, NPA is seeking to diversify its relief funding and to maximize its use of resources from the budget as possible. An example of this is the popular campaign that is being led by NPA and Fagforbundet in Norway in order to secure more funds for NPA and its partner’s activities. “It is not an easy job, but it is the current reality” Anouti adds.

Life for Palestinians in Lebanon

Lebanese Palestinians are welcoming their Syrian Palestinian brothers and sisters, but everyday life is becoming harder and harder for both groups. “The camps are already crowded and now there’s even more people here driving the prices up, especially rent” Says Nadia Qazim, a member of the The General Union of Palestinian Women. Lebanese authorities’ reluctance to establish individual camps for the PRS has forced them into the existing 12 Palestinian refugee camps, and consequently driven prices upwards. The PRS are also showing willingness to accept jobs at much lower wages, and job competition is therefore intensifying. Despite UNRWA’s attempts to provide a sense of normalcy for the refugees, Lebanese authorities remain one of the biggest obstacles for the refugee population. As the PRS seek shelter in Lebanon, they are subject to a separate visa policy which is both expensive and discriminatory. Recent reports from Amnesty International have revealed how Palestinians fleeing the Syrian crisis were refused entry at the border by Lebanese authorities. Additionally, a legal residence permit is simply too expensive for most Palestinians and most end up staying illegally. “They are stuck in the camps, because they are afraid of Lebanese check points who might expose their illegal residence” Palestinian Popular Committee member Abed Abu Salah points out with frustration.  

The precarious situation is also generating signs of tension between the different Palestinian groups, as the original Palestinian refugee population is feeling marginalized by the arrival of not only PRS, but Syrians in general. “The treatment of us Palestinians has not changed – NGOs are discriminating against the Lebanese-Palestinians, they feel left aside as the Syrians are receiving all the attention and services.” Salah explains.

The dream of returning

Meanwhile, Um Mohammed’s family is settled in a small store built for keeping goods, hardly suitable for a family of 25. Her life now consists of enduring the situation in Lebanon waiting to be supported by basic life needs from organizations such as NPA, and hoping to one day return to her house in Yarmouk. “My sister is disabled and my son in law is missing because of the war, but all I want is to return to my home in Yarmouk”

NPA has since 1982 focused on supporting the Palestinian refugee population who has been deprived of their basic rights, and NPAs humanitarian efforts are now needed more than ever in order to secure a dignified existence for the refugee population of Lebanon.

23.01.2015 | Scott M. Sandvik