Tag Archives: Palestinians

Nationality and the Palestinians

8 Jun

Looking over my story about Samira Soueidan, I realized I left out some vital information about why the Justice Ministry would appeal such a case. Do they not like Egyptians? Do they not like widowers?
Those who’ve followed my reporting on the issue will know that the appeal is actually more or less framed around the idea of the 400,000 or so Palestinian refugees being resettled in Lebanon.
Lebanon has always been paranoid that Palestinian refugees will be granted Lebanese citizenship and resettle here, upsetting the demographic balance in this hysterically confessional country. The argument put forward by officials in public is that they don’t want the Palestinians to relinquish their right to return to the country they were expelled from. (This is coincidentally one of the main reasons Lebanon also does not grant the Palestinians the right to work in most professions).
But scrutinize the issue and you will find this policy is nothing but lies. Christian Palestinians were granted Lebanese citizenship a long time ago, simply because they would bolster Christian numbers. So it has nothing to do with the rights of Palestinians to return to their occupied country and everything to do with sectarianism. By granting Soueidan the right to nationality, the Justice Ministry saw a dangerous precedent being set that could pave the way for all stateless children and husbands to demand their right to citizenship.
It’s especially difficult to comprehend the logic behind Lebanon’s sexist nationality laws when looking at the facts on the ground: According to a UNDP-funded study, only 2% of all Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese are married to Palestinians. This shows the law for what it is:deeply flawed and only existing to serve the patriarchal sectarian system.

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UNRWA determined not to scale back amid crippling funding crisis

6 Dec
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, December 05, 2009
BEIRUT: The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees is struggling with a “dire” financial crisis but will not cut back on its provision of services, its head of operations in Lebanon said Friday. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on Wednesday it was facing its worst budget deficit in history. According to a recent document posted on the agency’s website concerning UNRWA’s financial situation, a shortfall of $79.6 million for 2009 and $125.7 million for 2010 has been projected. It said a continuing lack of funds since 2005 had “resulted in the complete depletion of UNRWA’s working capital.
“UNRWA is faced with a dire financial crisis,” Salvatore Lombardo, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, told The Daily Star. He said the agency’s operations in Lebanon were facing a $9 million deficit for 2010. “We have been operating with approximately the same budgets for the last [several] years whilst the needs are growing considerably and the cost of services is increasing,” he said. “Our expected budget is 14 percent less than what UNRWA needs to cover the most basic requirements of Palestine refugees.” 
The UN official added that although the agency would continue to provide health care, education and relief and social services, the standards of those services would drop. “Whilst UNRWA strives to ensure services are not cut, the overall environment it operates in will deteriorate,” he added. 
There are over 422,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, most of who live in the country’s 12 squalid refugee camps. 
The figure may no longer be accurate, however, as UNRWA does not remove refugees who have moved abroad from its records. There are also an unknown number of nonregistered refugees and an additional 40,000 Palestinians residing in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods. 
UNRWA has routinely faced funding shortages in the past, but the ongoing international financial crisis and a lack of financial reserves have resulted in a “situation of unprecedented gravity,” the UNRWA website said. 
The agency held its annual pledging conference at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, hoping the international community would respond to its financial emergency. “It would be timely, and extremely welcome, if UNRWA was to receive new pledges of support from unexpected quarters or else the announcement of increase in funding from those that have historically underperformed in this respect,” said Andrew Whitley on behalf of UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Abu Zayd ahead of the conference. 
“The refugees and our 30,000-strong Palestinian staff, who live in great anxiety these days about the prospect of further reductions in their modest living standards, would be enormously relieved.” UNRWA has warned salary cuts were straining relations with its employees. 
But Lombardo said that while pledges were made at the conference, it was “not enough to cover the shortfall for 2010.” 
Speaking in September on the occasion of UNRWA’s 60th anniversary, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the agency’s serious funding shortages and appealed to the international community to give generously. “The agency’s work is too important for it to suffer budget crisis after budget crisis,” he said. 
UNRWA’s funding shortfall will impact other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with Palestinians, said John Viste of ANERA, an American NGO which provides humanitarian relief aid to Palestinian refugees. “It does affect us when UNRWA services are cut back.” 
Medicine, normally provided by UNRWA, was a case in point, Viste said. “If they don’t have any medicine available, others have to fill in the gap. If they can’t provide then the Palestinians are forced to buy, which places greater strain on their resources.” 
In spite of the financial difficulties, UNRWA is pursuing internal reform that requires no additional funding, Lombardo said. “We are committed to improving the management of our services. We will do so through decentralizing decision-making to the head teachers, medical officers and relief workers that run our schools, clinics and camp officers, communicating better with our beneficiaries and eliminating bureaucracy in our processes.” 
Nevertheless, the cutbacks have raised fears that the security situation in the camps could explode. “The consequences of the financial deficit extend beyond the level of quality of services we provide,” Lombardo said. “Instability feeds on poverty and a lack of opportunities. There are very concrete steps that can be taken to push back against such scenario. 
“Providing health, education, and relief and social services means not only teaching the young, caring for the sick and fending for the poor. It means creating a platform of stability on which future political progress can rest. UNRWA is part of the solution here in Lebanon,” he said.

Palestinian refugees living unofficial gatherings suffer ‘squalid’ conditions

13 Aug

Dalila Mahdawi

Daily Star Staff

BEIRUT: Fetid squatter toilets in bathrooms that open onto other rooms, drinking water contaminated with fecal matter and rusty zinc roofs protected from the elements by flimsy plastic sheeting: according to a new report, these features can be found at a number of Palestinian houses outside of Lebanon’s official refugee camps.

Between February and June of this year, the international non-governmental organizations Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Premiere Urgence (PU) carried out a comprehensive assessment of the living conditions of Palestinians residing in 42 so called “gatherings,” or neighborhoods consisting of 25 or more Palestinian houses.

The survey, funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department, is the first to employ a house to house methodology and provides the first truly comprehensive assessment of the state of housing and infrastructure in the neglected areas.

“The findings reveal that approximately 40,000 Palestinian refugees currently live in gatherings outside of the 12 official UNRWA camps,” said Julien Mulliez, Head of Mission for Premiere Urgence, referring to the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees. Previous estimates had put the figure at around 60,000. “Despite being registered refugees, residents of these gatherings are unable to access support from the agency to maintain their homes and ensure safe and adequate access to water and sanitation,” he added.

A total of 11 percent of the refugees living in the gatherings “inhabit shelters that threaten health and prevent social well being,” affecting 897 households and around 4,000 people, the report found. Many shelters had large cracks in the walls, unsafe rafters, or were without windows, internal bathrooms or kitchens.

Eight of the 39 gatherings assessed were found to suffer from “urgent” water and sanitation needs, while 12 others had “moderate” needs. “In those eight gatherings, the level of hygiene is very poor and bacteriological contamination of water was detected or was estimated very likely to occur soon given the critical condition of the water sources and networks.”

Several sewage systems were deemed outdated, damaged or insufficient to the area’s needs, putting residents at risk of drinking contaminated drinking water and contact with sewage. Drinking water was often found to be unchlorinated, forcing many residents to spend a disproportionate amount of their household income of buying bottled water.

“Many of these houses face chronic structural or weatherproofing problems as well as basic hygiene issues,” said Graziella Ito-Pellegri, a Shelter Advisor for NRC. “This means that many families face leakages in winter and intense heat in summer. Many buildings are at risk of collapsing and families are forced to live without running water or a kitchen.”

Basic standards could be easily improved through awareness and capacity building activities, “such as information sessions on water related hygiene and training for technicians in charge of the water treatment,” the report said.

Having identified key housing, water and sanitation needs in the gatherings, the NRC and PU hope the report will provide donors and other NGOs with ideas for new rehabilitation projects. “Additional funding is crucial to ensure that basic human rights are upheld in terms of shelter, water and sanitation” for the Palestinian refugees living in the gatherings,” Mulliez said.

Noting the fact that Palestinian refugees do not have the right to own land or property, the report recommended future initiatives to improve shelter or water and sanitation in the gatherings be tied to legal assistance projects. If the sufficient funds were gathered, the most crucial housing needs could be rectified within four years. “This report should be the basis for an intervention plan,” concluded the report. “If no concrete measures are taken [soon], the situation in the field will worsen and the refugees will be exposed to severe risks.”

Enforced Idleness in Nahr al-Bared

24 Jun
With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

BEIRUT: Fiddling with mobile phones, chain smoking and sitting around: enforced idleness is the burden of almost every single resident in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

Their abysmal situation is the focus of a new film, “A Sip of Coffee,” produced by a-films, an international anarchist film collective presently focusing its efforts on the camp. Those in the collective run film-making workshops within the camp in the hope of promoting film-making as a tool for political activism, a-films activist Ray Smith told The Daily Star. He produced with film along with novice film-maker Mohammad Eshtawi.

Situated 16 kilometers North of Tripoli, Nahr al-Bared used to be a source of pride for its residents – with a thriving economy and bustling market attracting both Lebanese and Palestinian customers, it was the most prosperous of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. Its luck turned for the worst in 2007 when a militant Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam, sought refuge in the camp. A three-month battle between the group and the Lebanese Armed Forces, ending on September 2, resulted in the total annihilation of the camp. Nahr al-Bared’s Palestinian residents found themselves displaced for a second time in history, losing everything they had saved and built up over the last 60 years. Two years on from that devastating war, the camp has been partially cleared of rubble, but the people of Nahr al-Bared remain in limbo: living in temporary housing units as they wait for the reconstruction to begin. Nahr al-Bared’s once robust economy was destroyed along with the camp.

“A Sip of Coffee” revolves around the testimonies of Mohammad, an unemployed camp resident in his twenties, and his father Ziyad. Through their voices, the 26-minute film illustrates the issues that matter most to Nahr al-Bared’s residents: unemployment, reconstruction, displacement and endless, stifling monotony.

Mohammad spends most of his days doing nothing. “Although the week has seven days, we feel as though it only has one day, and it’s always the same one,” he says in the film. “There’s nowhere to go, there are no clubs and no libraries to borrow books to try and educate oneself.”

Mohammad has tried to get a job but there simply aren’t any. What work he can find is often casual day labor. Mohammad’s father Ziyad has also struggled to find work after losing his two shops in the camp’s siege. “After the destruction of Nahr al-Bared and its declaration as a military zone, the economy was reduced to point zero … the camp’s economy depended on the [Lebanese] residents of the Akkar region,” he tells the camera in a resigned voice. He now scrapes money together by fishing and running a makeshift cafe.

Resentment is growing steadily among the camp’s residents as the many promises made to rebuild the destroyed camp falter. The stifling living conditions in the temporary housing units, oppressively hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, only aggravate their anger. “I’m sorry to say it, but we live in cow sheds,” Mohammad says. NGOs call the cramped iron and concrete structures temporary but they feel permanent to many of those struggling inside. “When my family and I gather in the evening, I hardly know where to sit – it’s very crowded,” Mohammad says.

Ziyad shares his frustration. “The population density always causes problem between the families who aren’t used to each other,” he says. Ziyad, like many others, fear they will be displaced forever, and participate in protests urging the authorities to begin immediate reconstruction of the camp.

“People rightfully feel that they’ve lost control over their lives, because their lives are being ‘managed’ by NGOs and UNRWA (the UN agency dedicated to providing assistance to Palestinian refugees), and because their movement is limited by the Army’s checkpoint and permit system,” said Smith. 

Although a ceremony was held this March to mark the beginning of reconstruction, nothing has happened since then.

Ziyad appears to have given up hope that Nahr al-Bared will ever be rebuilt, saying he’ll only believe in the promises of officials when he sees construction material entering the camp. “I can’t believe in all these empty promises and lies by [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora and [PLO Representative in Lebanon] Abbas Zaki.”

Palestinians pump up Lebanese economy – study

13 Feb

Despite employment obstacles, refugee community doesn’t burden state’s social safety net
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, February 03, 2009

BEIRUT: Despite facing severe work restrictions, most Palestinian refugee households have at least one family member who is employed, constitute 10 per cent of all private consumption in Lebanon, and do not burden the Lebanese welfare system, a recent report has found.

The Najdeh (Welfare) Association, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization (NGO), published the report examining the contributions of Palestinian refugees to the Lebanese economy in January with funding from aid agencies Diakonia and Christian Aid, as part of its “right to work” campaign.

The study is the result of a survey of 1,500 households in eight refugee camps across Lebanon and a number of focus group discussions, and assesses the income of Palestinian refugees, challenges to and perceptions of work, and their contribution to the Lebanese economy. According to Najdeh, the study “constitutes a paradigm shift in research on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from examining employability to examining the contribution to the economy of the host country Lebanon.”

Under Lebanese law, Palestinian refugees are barred from all but the most menial occupations. Nonetheless, the report found one third of the individuals sampled worked, 91.1 of households had a member who worked, and roughly 40 per cent were searching for work. Only 1.7 per cent of those surveyed had work permits, a fact the report said “renders the Palestinian refugee labor force invisible in official statistics” and exacerbates their socioeconomic marginalization.

Najdeh also found there was “disequilibrium in the contribution to the workforce among men and women typical to the region: women constitute only 20 per cent of those who work between ages 15 to 64 years.” No change to this disequilibrium had occurred since a similar report was published a decade ago, the report said.

Some 31.1 per cent of men of working age (defined as 15-64 years old) were not currently in employment, compared to 83.2 per cent of women in the same age group. More women were found to work between the ages of 40-44 and 55-65, the report found, because “women go to work after their children grow up” in line with their traditional gender role as homemakers, or because elder women “have already been involved in the workforce since their youth.”

Most men, meanwhile, worked when they were younger, between the ages of 25 and 29, and 35-39, in keeping with their time-honored gender role as breadwinner. However, significantly more men of working age were illiterate compared to their women counterparts. “This phenomenon may be considered a crude indicator of school dropouts,” Najdeh said.

Most Palestinian men and women worked in the private service sector, with men working predominantly in construction, industry, transport and agriculture. More women, meanwhile, were employed in the NGO sector or by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Because of “limited work opportunities for Palestinian refugees outside” their camps, most of the men and women surveyed were found to work within or on the peripheries of the camps.

Perhaps surprisingly, the report found that a greater proportion (67 per cent) of employed women worked full-time, compared to 62 per cent of men, who more often engaged “in seasonal, occasional and other work patterns.” Furthermore, more employed women (48.6 per cent) were employed by an establishment, whereas 49.6 per cent of men worked for an “individual employer.” Men were also more likely to stop working due to health problems.

Most men (59.6 per cent) and women (55.1 per cent) said they were “somewhat satisfied” with their current work environment, but “twice the proportion of women express being ‘very satisfied’ with health and safety conditions at work” compared to men (21.7 and 10.8 per cent respectively). This may be because more men engage in occupations with greater safety hazards, stated the report.

The majority of both men and women expressed dissatisfaction with their low income levels, the report added. Median monthly wages were $260-266 for men and $188-200 for women. An overwhelming majority (84 per cent) of Palestinian households furthermore believed there were no work prospects for their children in Lebanon, a perspective perhaps compounded by the fact the median monthly household income of Palestinian refugees had declined from $260-266.7 in 2007 to $108-112 “during the first half of 2008.” In addition, 54.9 per cent of households said they were supported financially by remittances from emigrant family members.

Individuals living with chronic illness constituted 16 per cent of the sample population in the report, 6.5 per cent of whom attributed their illness to occupation; 4.3 per cent of those with disabilities likewise attributed their disability to occupation. The report emphasized the difficulties these individuals faced, as because they are not legally supposed to work, they cannot claim insurance from UNRWA for occupational injuries. Consequently, “patients suffering from occupational injuries and their aftermath are vulnerable to financial as well as health-related catastrophes.”

Although Palestinian refugees cannot legally contribute much to the Lebanese economy through employment, the sheer amount of them living in the country (more than 400,000) means they count for 10 per cent ($352 million) of all private consumption in Lebanon. Food, healthcare and rent constitute their top spending priorities.

The report also found that despite a 60-year presence in Lebanon and extreme vulnerability as a group, Palestinian refugees “do not appear to have constituted a burden on the safety net system provided by the Lebanese welfare system.” The report stated UNRWA, NGOs and faith-based organizations represented the primary safety net for the Palestinian refugee community.

Palestinians also contributed to “invigorating” the areas surrounding their camps by creating low-cost markets for low-income and other marginalized communities in Lebanon. The “Sabra, Ein el-Hilweh and Nahr al-Bared camp markets are recognized as major informal economic hubs for the poor,” said the report, adding that the destruction of Nahr al-Bared during the battles of 2007 had “resulted in a gap in the Akkar” region in northern Lebanon for such communities.

Concluding the report, Najdeh spoke of the importance of granting Palestinian refugees the right to work and called for “implementing a formal economic strategic partnership between the Lebanese economic community and the Palestinian refugee economic community.” Najdeh also recommended allowing highly trained professionals to work in the Lebanese market “when needed,” and forming a dialogue committee between the Lebanese and Palestinian economic communities. “This would enable Palestinian refugees to work more effectively toward their own welfare and the development of the country hosting them,” said the report.

Lebanon ‘worst place’ for Palestinian refugees

29 Nov

Country suffers from ‘complete lack of integration’
By Dalila Mahdawi
Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lebanon 'worst place' for Palestinian refugees
 

 

BEIRUT: Lebanon may not host the largest population of Palestinian refugees but it “is the most difficult place to be a Palestinian refugee.” That is the opinion of Zara Sejberg, Child Protection project manager at Save the Children Sweden, at least.  Speaking ahead of the UN-designated “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” on Saturday.

Sejberg, who works to promote the rights of Lebanese and Palestinian refugee children and who has travelled widely throughout the Middle East, told The Daily Star that over 409,700 Palestinians living in squalid, overcrowded camps in Lebanon suffered from a “complete lack of integration,” inadequate services, harmful stereotypes, and discriminatory laws. Over 3000 Palestinians in Lebanon do not even have formal documentation, meaning they are not recognized by either the Lebanese state or UNRWA.

Refugees in Lebanon suffer from the highest levels of abject poverty of all Palestinian  refugees, according to UNRWA. In accordance with the UN Refugee Convention of 1951, all refugees must be given the right to work and to own property. But Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy those rights. Nor are they entitled to state health care. Their status has long been an issue of bitter dispute between Lebanese political parties, many of whom argue that Palestinians are temporary guests and vehemently oppose the possibility of Palestinian naturalization.

In an address to the UN General Assembly Tuesday to mark the day of solidarity with the Palestinians, Lebanese Ambassador to the UN Nawwaf Salem said Lebanon “strictly opposes any sort of naturalization of the Palestinians, a matter which has been repeatedly emphasized by [President] Michel Sleiman.” Naturalization was “not feasible because it threatened the Lebanese state and identity, as well as the identity of Palestinian refugees,” Salem added.

For Sejberg, the debate over naturalization was pointless. The majority of Palestinians themselves have no interest in becoming Lebanese. Indeed, as recently as last Wednesday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki told An-Nahar newspaper that the naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would not be tolerated. “I don’t even know why we’re bothering to talk about naturalization when that’s not the issue,” said Sejberg. “The issue is how to improve the life of these people who have been in Lebanon’s backyard since 1948.”

But according to former Ambassador Khalil Makkawi, president of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), which since 2005 has been working on the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon under the guise of the Cabinet, responsibility for the Palestinians lay “not [with] Lebanon but UNRWA and the international community.”

“I think it’s time to take a more proactive stance,” Sejberg said, suggesting Lebanon used UNRWA’s mandate over the Palestinians as a “convenient” tool to absolve itself of responsibility toward them.

Haifa Jammal, Human Rights and Advocacy program coordinator at Norwegian People’s Aid, which works with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, likewise said that the Lebanese government was not working hard enough to improve the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. “The government took the initiative to establish the LPDC, but that committee has not done nearly enough. Regarding the right of Palestinians to work or to own property, there has been nothing done yet.”

During his UN address, Salem said Lebanon’s “very limited resources” meant it was unable to adequately provide for Palestinian refugees. “I don’t think the problem is one of money,” said Jammal. “The Palestinians are asking for the right to work and not for aid. If they were allowed to work and to buy property, the Palestinians would be contributing to the Lebanese economy” and helping to build up the very resources Salem complained his country lacked, Jammal added.

According to Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch, what the Lebanese government needed to do was “to show the political will and a true desire to improve the living conditions of Palestinians.” Some of the means to do that did not require financing, he said. “Lifting restrictions on employment opportunities and on construction permits require no expense. For the things that do require money, like the rebuilding of Nahr al-Bared, the international community needs to support Lebanon.” Houry was referring to the Palestinian refugee camp destroyed when the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) engaged militant group Fatah al-Islam between May and September 2007. The fighting killed 400 people, including 169 LAF soldiers and an unverified number of Palestinian camp residents.

When questioned Friday on LPDC efforts to change laws that discriminated against Palestinian refugees, Makkawi answered simply: “We are working on it.”