Is the denial of rights such as the right to education and health mortifying to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon?
Late in the 1940’s Palestinians from the north of Palestine were forced to leave their homes due to attacks from Israeli military forces and ethnic cleansing. This briefing is directed at the Deputy High Commissioner, Korea’s Ms. Kyung-wha Kang and the Assistant High Commissioners for Protection and Operations, Erika Feller and Judy Cheng-Hopkins who are directly concerned with the issues that have been elucidated on in the paper.
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This briefing will be delivered at a presentation with the concerned departments on the findings of research based on the current predicaments that the Palestinian refugees are facing. The paper aims to elucidate on the plight of the refugees and the gains that would be attained from application of their full rights as well as some practical solutions to the predicaments.
It is pertinent to note that many homes were destroyed during the period so the Palestinians were forced to flee into Lebanon. During the first few months of their stay, they were provided with food and shelter by Lebanese farmers.
They were also assisted by the LRCS (International League of Red Cross Societies) which provided tents, food and clothes while the Lebanese Government gave some form of backing by contributing free depots, protection, warehouses, manual labour as well transportation (Betts & Loescher, 2010, p. 155). Aid was also provided from various private and public sources.
Background of the issue
In the 1950’s, the Sunni politicians demanded for a greater Muslim role in the Lebanese government. This together with the Sunni’s support for Nasser’s calls for Pan-Arabism led to the outbreak of a civil war in 1958. From then onwards, the Israelis persistently refused to implement the UN General Assembly resolution 194 (Betts & Loescher, 2010, p. 155).
This part petitioned for the refugees to be allowed to go back to their domiciles and subsist in harmony with their fellow citizens at the earliest practicable time and that they should be compensated for loss of property resulting from the confrontations (Aristide, 1986, p. 160).
The attitude of the Lebanese government then changed. So as to put off eternal relocation, the regime went ahead and placed callous limitations on the immigrants (Betts & Loescher, 2010, p. 155). No housing development was allowed. Work permits for Palestinians suddenly became unobtainable in 1962. Betts and Loescher (2010, p. 155) stated that “martial law was also imposed on the refugee camps which resulted in the 1969 uprising in the camps”.
In 1969, the Lebanese government signed the Cairo agreement between itself and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. This improved the conditions for the refugees. The Palestinian immigrants obtained some rights such as freedom of movement, residency as well as labour rights. They were also granted the rights to defend themselves in Lebanon (Betts & Loescher, 2010, p. 155). Aristide (1986, p. 160) elucidated that the rights “tied to the Cairo agreement never became national legislation”.
The PLO was forced out of Lebanon after the 1982 invasion by the Israelites. Consequently, the situation for the Palestinian immigrants worsened. Hostility against Palestinian immigrants was among the main facets all through the warfare (Aristide, 1986, p. 160).
The current situation in various sectors
Aristide (1986, p. 160) asserts that the “Palestinian refugees are denied access to Lebanese public schools”. On the other hand, Betts and Loescher (2010, p. 155) designate that “the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA, 1949), offers secondary education in Lebanon to counter the effects of restrictions placed by the Lebanese government and the high cost of private schools”. This is mostly because they are beyond the means of Palestinian immigrants.
It operates around 70 primary education institutions as well as three secondary institutions in Lebanon. However, most of the facilities in UNRWA operated schools are quite pitiable and the schools are over occupied and have limited or no recreational space. In a bid to take care of their spouses, majority of the scholars were coerced into ceasing their learning activities and seek for employment (Aristide, 1986, p. 160). The schools therefore, have very high dropout rates.
Palestinians without identity documents are unable to sit for the intermediate schooling exam if they do not have any recognized ID, hence, locking out many children from accessing secondary education.
The Lebanese statute allows only skilled individuals from the Lebanese professional associations to partake in any profession (Kunz, 1973, p. 138). Such associations can be easily established but for foreigners they are regulated by reciprocity clause which states that non-citizens cannot form associations (Kunz, 1973, p. 138). Kunz (1973) further stated that:
The major sources of income for Palestinian refugees are employment in shops and institutions within the refugee camps; employment in UNRWA and its affiliated institutions; remittances from relatives who work abroad; employment in Palestinian organisations and associations and employment in agriculture and Lebanese companies’. This is because a number of ministerial decrees prohibit Palestinians from about 72 trades and professions. (p. 138)
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The Palestinian health centres and shops in the camps of immigrants have been prominent hunting points for the Lebanese police officers (Mason, 2000, p. 248). Since the early 1990’s, the Lebanese police have been arresting Palestinian individuals with unlicensed facilities. In 2005, the Lebanese minister of labour granted Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the right to work in private sector jobs. It is however not known if this decision will make an impact as obtaining a work permit is an expense that very few Palestinian refugees can afford.
Immigrants from Palestine are not allowed to use the public medical amenities in Lebanon (Kunz, 1973, p. 138). As a result they are forced to rely on healthcare that is provided by UNWRA or in hospitals that have contracts with them. Due to limited funding and resources they can only provide primary and secondary but not tertiary healthcare. Another healthcare provider is the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS). The withdrawal of the PLO has had a negative impact on the scope and quality of services the PRCS provides.
All children born to non-ID Palestinian fathers do not receive any identification documents from the Lebanese government nor are they registered with UNRWA therefore remain non-ID as well (Mason, 2000, p. 248).
Basing on the implication of the reciprocity clause, individuals from other countries living in Lebanon are allowed to equally enjoy the universal rights just like the other citizens of Lebanon (Good-Gill, 2001, p. 139). But since it is claimed that Palestinians do not belong to any particular state, the clause does not apply to them (Mason, 2000, p. 248). Individuals working in Lebanon from Palestine do not have any right of social defence (Chimni, 2009, p. 16).
Restrictions on building
Reconstructing of camps that were completely obliterated is forbidden by the Lebanese authorities. Chimni (2009, p. 16) asserted that “reconstruction or building in other camps requires a special permit which is usually not issued”. Fighters of the Lebanese government also substantiate that Palestinians are not ferrying any building materials illegally. This is because it is regarded as a serious offense that is punishable by arrest or detention.
Property ownership and transfer
Persons who do not carry a citizenship certificate offered by the state are prohibited by the presidential decree from owning property in Lebanon. Chimni (1998, p. 361) attests that “these rulings further imply that non-Lebanese persons can acquire property in Lebanon, but only under certain conditions like- the property should not be in excess of 3000 square metres”.
The property rule in the country of Lebanon proscribes individuals from Palestine from owning property. The law also proscribes the Palestinian kids from inheriting their parents’ assets (Aristide, 1986, p. 160).
Travelling manuscripts are often issued by the Lebanese regime to ensure that individuals from Palestine are not only working but also living abroad (Mason, 2000, p. 248). There are quite a number of diverse documents which are given to the Palestinians to make use of when travelling around. Immigrants who are registered with both UNWRA and DAPR are given lasting nationality certificates as well as a five year renewable travel certificate.
Those indexed with only DAPR are supplied with forms or papers of everlasting nationality and a Laisser Passer with one year validity. These are renewable thrice while refugees who are not registered with any of the two institutions are not issued with any travel documents (Castles, 2003, p. 28).
Mason (2000, p. 248) asserts that “in 1995, the Lebanese ministry of internal affairs imposed an entry and exit visa leaving many Palestinians with travel documents stranded outside”. The restrictions have since been eased.
The statute of Lebanon has banned the relocation of refugees from Palestine (Mason, 2000, p. 248). In 2003, the president of the then newly formed cabinet stressed that the government will not back down on its insistence that Israeli grants or complies with the right of return of Palestinian refugees and that Lebanon rejects any plans for their resettlement in Lebanon
The government as well as majority of the Lebanese population completely oppose the full integration of the Palestinian refugees in the country. One reason behind this is that they hold the refugees responsible for the civil war outbreak in Lebanon.
Castles (2003, p. 28) in his research stated that “currently Palestinians who are born in Lebanon and the children of Lebanese mothers and Palestinian fathers who are considered Palestinians are not granted Lebanese citizenship”. Residency of an everlasting nature is nevertheless approved for any Palestinian female who may get betrothed or affianced to a man from Lebanon.
The nongovernmental organizations in Palestine are outlawed from operating in Lebanon. However, PRCS is excluded from this law. In order to operate such an organization the requirement is that they must be first registered as a Lebanese NGO, serve both Palestinians and Lebanese and that majority of the employees must be Lebanese citizens (Castles, 2003, p. 28).
Generally the situation in Lebanon has led to worldwide action and petitions from humanitarian organisations (Castles, 2003, p. 28). The Palestinian refugees are greatly mistreated and the Lebanese government has done comparatively little in an effort to make their lives more bearable.
In this time and age violation of basic human rights should be a thing of the past. So far the Lebanese government has received criticism from all over the world due to this issue. It is time for the leaders of the country to demonstrate good leadership qualities by amending the laws of the land so as to contribute to the general development of the entire state.
Given the harsh living conditions of the refugees in Lebanon, the following recommendations would greatly assist in making the life of Palestinian refugees much better:
- Provision by the Lebanese government of adequate shelter and functioning infrastructure in refugee camps would go a long way in resolving the issue. This will improve the living conditions of the refugees and the government may even benefit from commercial activities that may arise from setting up infrastructure (Richmond, 1993, p. 17).
- Ensure access to health facilities and affordable medication to all Palestinian refugees especially for the provision of healthcare at tertiary level. The Lebanese government should also make an effort to secure additional support for UNRWAs care programme for severe chronic illnesses (Kunz, 1973, p. 138).
- The Palestinian children should be allowed to join public schools so as to reap from the benefits of quality education hence, boosting their employability. This will benefit the whole country as the number of educated individuals in the entire country will increase. A high level of unemployment has never been beneficial to any region and the same applies to the Palestine region. The number of unemployed individuals ought to be increased.
- The needs of the most vulnerable members of the Palestinian refugees such as persons with disabilities, women and children should be addressed. They should not be ignored any longer.
- Food security for refugees should be enhanced. Government spending ought to be concentrated on creating jobs and initiatives for enhancing the food security.
- The Lebanese government should reconstruct the ongoing emergency relief stores in Nahr el-Bared camp and design a comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategy. Involving all the stake holders will be beneficial to the cause since they will know what exactly works for them as they consider the other parties that may be involved in the consultations (Richmond, 2002, p. 707).
- The government should lift the bans on providing the Palestinians with citizenship in a move to benefit from the labour capital that the Palestinians can offer.
The situation in Lebanon requires a complete overhaul in the laws and attitude of the entire nation towards Palestinian refugees. The UNHCR should therefore take up the task of liaising with the Lebanese government with the intention of ensuring that their laws are in compliance with international human rights.
The changes will also go a long way in ensuring that the rest of the world recognises the fact that some action is being taken to improve on the conditions as well as the living standards of the refugees. It is important for the concerned parties to elucidate on their commitment to embrace the changes that have been recommended. Most of the basic rights that many people enjoy are a luxury and the people ought to be able to reap from the benefits accorded to them by the governments and administrations.
Aristide, Z 1986, ‘International factors in the formation of refugee movements’, International migration review, vol. 20 no. 2, pp. 151-169.
Betts, A & Loescher, G 2010, Refugees in international relations, Refugees in International Relationships, vol. 6 no. 3, pp. 1-28.
Castles, S 2003, ‘Towards a sociology of forced migration and social transformation’, Sociology, vol. 37 no. 1, pp. 13-34.
Chimni, S. B 1998, ‘The geo-politics of refugee studies: a view from the south’, Journal of refugee studies, vol. 11 no. 4 , pp. 350-374.
Chimni, S. B 2009, The birth of a ‘discipline’: from refugee to forced migration, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 22 no. 1, pp. 11-29.
Good-Gill, G. S 2001, Refugees challenges to protection. International migration review, vol. 35 no. 1, pp. 130-142.
Kunz, F. E 1973, ‘The refugee in flight: kinetic models and forms of displacement’, International migration review, vol. 7 no. 2 , pp. 125-146.
Mason, E 2000, ‘Forced migration studies: surveying the reference landscape’, Libri, vol. 50 no. 1, pp. 241-251.
Richmond, A. H 2002, ‘Globalization: implications for immigrants and refugees’, Ethnic and racial studies, vol. 25 no. 5, pp. 707-727.
Richmond, A. H 1993, ‘Reactive migration: sociological perspectives on refugee movements’, Journal of refugee studies, vol. 6 no. 1 , pp. 7-24.