The Palestine refugees: Out or integrated in Lebanon now?

Posted in Broader Middle East | 19-Apr-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

The entrance of the largest Ein Hilwe Refugee Camp in Sidon: 350,000 to 500,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon with…
The entrance of the largest Ein Hilwe Refugee Camp in Sidon: 350,000 to 500,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon with inhumane conditions and lack of jobs
The Ein el-Hilwe camp is the largest camp in Lebanon and it is also considered the most dangerous one - dangerous because each and every family holds weapons. I knew I was nearing the camp when I saw the Lebanese army check points. Luckily, when I arrived there were a only few cars that wanted to enter the camp; otherwise the army's procedure of checking each car briefly and sometimes inspecting passengers' papers would have taken at least a few hours. However, as a foreigner, I had previously received permission from the Lebanese military security service to enter the camp.

The first image of the camp was that of a busy place. Pictures of Arafat, Sheikh Yassin and former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri grace the entrance gate. Men, women, teenagers and children were walking and talking loudly in the streets. Actually, the camp had the image of a busy Arab souk (market).

The situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is no secret. There is great animosity towards them in the country; most of the Lebanese, regardless of their religion or political affiliation feel threatened by the possibility of having the Palestinians on a permanent basis in Lebanon. The fragile sectarian balance would be broken if the majority of the Sunni Muslim Palestinians would remain in the country. The people of Lebanon may be multicultural and multi-sectarian and have many differences of opinion, but they always agree upon one thing: There is no place in Lebanon for the Palestinians.

The harsh conditions in which the Palestinians live as refugees in Lebanon are hard to imagine. They are forbidden from owning property, working in over 70 professions, receiving proper healthcare and moving and traveling freely.

The lack of employment opportunities for the refugees in Lebanon has created a devastating economic condition throughout the refugee camps. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA), more than 70% of Palestinian refugees are currently living below the poverty line. The UNRWA was created to provide relief for3.8million refugees registered with its offices. 33% live inside UNRWA's 59 refugee camps throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The picture of Sheikh Yassin is still watching over his Palestine fellows: A small but radical Islamic group preaches the…
The picture of Sheikh Yassin is still watching over his Palestine fellows: A small but radical Islamic group preaches the hate of Osama Bin Laden. With weapons inside the Ein Hilwe Camp it is a time bomb in Lebanon. Most Lebanese want the Palestinians out of their country.
The majority of the Palestinian people had been expelled from their homes and lands or had fled in 1948, or in the coming years due to the "Dalet Plan," a plan that sought to gather as much land as possible under Israeli ownership. There are three different groups of Palestinians: The ones who left Israel in 1948, the ones who remained in the newly-created state by the British mandate and the ones displaced in 1967 from both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

During the civil war, the camps were subject to military attacks and aggressions from the Israeli army and the Lebanese right-wing Christian militias. Israel attacked Lebanon because the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had established political and military headquarters in the country.

According to UN Resolution 194, the refugees have the right to: Return to their homes and receive real property restitution and compensation for losses and damages; assistance for resettlement in a host state or a third country and real property restitution and compensation for losses and damages. Although this resolution specifies the right to return, this issue has not as yet been solved under the Road Map peace plan.

The Palestinian goal is to return someday in the near future to their land, villages and towns. Some of them still hope that their fate will be no different than those of the refugees from Bosnia or Kosovo who were allowed to return to their land.

What the Palestinian refugees have so far

For more than 50 years, the Palestinian refugees have been the guinea pigs of various international or regional agreements. Despite the political matters that are the core of the problem or the presence of different Islamic resistances inside the camps, the Palestinians face a huge humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and everywhere else in the Arab world. They have poor living conditions, a high rate of unemployment, are forbidden access to healthcare and social services in the country where they are refugees, receive only basic services offered by the PLO in the camps and the access to education is also very restricted.

The situation in the camps

The residential area in Ein El Hilwe: poor living conditions, low eduction, no new buildings allowed for 40,000 refugees living…
The residential area in Ein El Hilwe: poor living conditions, low eduction, no new buildings allowed for 40,000 refugees living there.
As they are not able to build new homes for their large families and are also not allowed to at least consolidate their old buildings, the living conditions of Palestinian refugees are at the least precarious. Generally speaking, there is little if any opportunity for economic growth/business in the camps. It is true that the people have small shops inside the camps, but the income generated by these small, family businesses barely provides a means of existence for a particular family. There are no factories or small enterprises within the camps; therefore, most of the adult men and women are unemployed and must survive on the monthly payments of $100 - $200 that they receive from the PLO. However, not all Palestinians receive even this small amount of financial aid - it is only available to large families (more than 6) that have no other income.

The rising threat of terrorism inside the camps

Having nothing to do all day long, it comes as no surprise that Palestinian youth and young men only think about revenge and taking back their land and houses. The inhumane conditions and lack of jobs have the effect of radicalizing their behavior.

In the Ein el-Hilwe camp there is a small, but extremely dangerous and radical Islamic group that preaches the ideology of destruction and hate of Osama bin Laden, and preaching is not all that they do. Apart from their ideological, political or military affiliation, the fact that the Palestinians have weapons inside the camps is like a time bomb for Lebanon. It is not only the US or Israel they have negative feelings towards, but they are also angry with the Lebanese government for putting them in the cages - called camps - trying to make sure that they will feel miserable enough to want to go back to their country.