Over the past year more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees have fled violence, chaos and destitution in Syria to seek sanctuary in Lebanon. The vast majority have found themselves living in dire poverty, and trapped in chronically insecure existence.
Denied assurances of legal residence many are unsure if and how they can continue to live in the country into the New Year.
“Who, I mean really who from the Palestinian families can pay 200 dollars for the papers for every family member? If the average family is five people, then that is 1,000 dollars. This is impossible as we know most Palestinian refugees are’t even sure how they are going to feed their children one day to the next,” Mahmoud Assir Saawi, president of the Council for Palestinian Refugees Fleeing from Syria told IPS.
Such sentiments are reiterated time and time again within the squalid camps and overcrowded ghettoes throughout Lebanon. Palestinians arriving from Syria find themselves in an administrative and bureaucratic morass hobbled by decades of troubled history and war that offers them scant security.
The presence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon has always been a highly divisive issue, with many Lebanese blaming Palestinians for the role they played in the nation’s rancorous civil war from 1975 to 1990. The arrival of large communities of their compatriots this past year has further exacerbated existing fears and prejudices.
It is perhaps for this reason that the arriving Palestinians have been classified as “guests”, “migrants” or “displaced people”. To afford them the more apt title of “refugee” would bring with it legal obligations, most notably under the Geneva convention, which Lebanon would struggle to realise.
Fears of Palestinian, and even Syrian refugees settling in Lebanon permanently, and thus shifting the precarious sectarian balance within the country, are common and are regularly aired in the media and by politicians. As such the refugees’ status remains vulnerable and their sanctuary insecure.
Securing residency papers remains one of the biggest problems for Palestinian refugees from Syria. Upon arrival Palestinians fleeing war and hunger are only granted a one-week visa in Lebanon, which then must then extend.
Palestinian journalist Maher Ayoub from Yarmouk Camp in Damascus knows first hand about the vulnerability of life in Lebanon. On a recent trip to renew his papers he was ordered to leave the country within the week, despite assurances from the Lebanese government that it would not throw out any refugees.
Faced with incarceration in Lebanon or a perilous return to Syria, he has taken refuge in one of the Palestinian camps Lebanese security services are not allowed to enter under an agreement reached at the end of the civil war.
“Where can I go? What can I do? I have no options now,” Ayoub told IPS.
Many other Palestinian refugees distrustful of the security services or fearful of being unable to pay their annual visa renewal fees are seeking cover within the camps. The reality is a life of incarceration in chronically overcrowded hovels of destitutionwhere unemployment is rife.
“We know they are our brethren and we must help them but this is becoming untenable,” said Abu Ahmad, a Lebanese-Palestinian resident from Chatilla camp. “I used to get at least a week’s work every month but now there is nothing. Every day we are seeing problems in the camp because of the desperation and the lack of work. People are even starting to pull weapons on each other. We need more support.”
Has anyone condemned Lebanon for its policy of treating Palestinians from Syria worse than other Syrian refugees?
Has anyone condemned Lebanon for forcing the Palestinians to return to a war zone?
Has anyone condemned Lebanon for effectively imprisoning them in overcrowded camps that they cannot leave without fear of expulsion?
Nope, this story – like the story of Palestinians in Syria literally starving to death – is all but ignored by the people who love to condemn Israel for the smallest perceived offenses.
When you hear someone say they are “pro-Palestinian,” ask them exactly what they are doing for the Palestinian Arabs being oppressed in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. Where are their flotillas, their convoys, their art exhibits, their press releases, their letters to the editor, their church stunts?
Their silence explains exactly how “pro-Palestinian” they really are.