Lebanon: Explosion of Social Unrest Feared in Palestinian Refugee Camps
Many of the Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanese camps consider this period to be the most difficult since their arrival to the country as the new coronavirus pandemic and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) suspension of aid exacerbated their hardships.
While they are aware the latest aid package that UNRWA had committed to provide to help refugees deal with the pandemic would not have solved their problems, the numerous families who had been counting on the 122 thousand liras (around 28 dollars according to the market rate) were let down by the agency’s decision to suspend distribution of this aid until further notice.
In a statement, UNRWA said that the distribution of aid is being suspended because “benefactors are not being responsive to our repeated calls for compliance with our schedule, which was organized according to alphabetical order, and social-distancing measures.”
On the other hand, the problem lies in UNRWA’s mismanagement and its degrading treatment of the recipients, according to Fateh’s Major General Munir al-Maqdah.
Maqdah tells Asharq Al-Awsat that the UNRWA’s response to the refugees’ needs has been inadequate since the outbreak began; it did not declare a state of emergency or prepare quarantine centers when the virus first broke out, adding that it could have adopted a different distribution method, accounting for the pandemic and coordinating with the Palestinian factions on the ground.
He goes on to say many refugees did not receive the aid that had been allocated for them, stressing that their conditions have been deteriorating since former Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman’s decision obliging Palestinian workers' to obtain work permits. This has been compounded further by the dollar crisis and the subsequent coronavirus outbreak, which he described as a knockout blow.
Although the virus has been successfully contained through the measures being implemented inside the camps and at their gates, the bigger challenge, according to Madaqh, is managing the pandemic’s economic and social implications, as refugee camps will be hit harder than other places.
He said that thousands of families are now living in poverty, unemployment rate is close to 90 percent, and while the security situation is under control for now, and problems are resolved quickly, crime is becoming increasingly prevalent inside and outside the camps. Thus, serious work is needed to avoid reaching a situation where things get out of hand.
Around 73% of residents in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon were living in poverty and 56% were unemployed before the outbreak, according to the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness).
According to a study conducted by the American University of Beirut in cooperation with UNRWA, only 38 percent of Lebanese Palestinians enjoy food security, while 38 percent suffer from moderate food insecurity and 24 percent suffer from acute food insecurity.