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Palestinian refugees in Lebanon protest against deterioration of living conditions

Palestine refugees in Lebanon’s Ein El-Hilweh refugee camp yesterday held protests outside UNRWA’s offices against the deterioration of their living conditions, local media reported.

More protests are scheduled in the coming weeks if the situation on the ground does not improve, demonstrators said, adding that their situation had been made worse by the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.

Yousef Abdul-Razeq, a Palestinian refugee from the camp, took to Facebook and accused officials, including UNRWA staff, of turning their backs on refugees and their suffering.

The activist said that many families in the camp do not even have bread to eat, stressing that meat has become something from the past.

“If you enter homes, you will not even find bread… Regarding meat and chicken, we have forgotten them,” he said.

He also pointed to the absence of the UNRWA’s role in light of the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want our rights and the rights of our sons,” the activist said. “They have been burying the Palestinian generations one after the other for 73 years,” he added.

Over 470,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with 180,000 estimated for planning purposes to be residing in the country.

About 45 percent of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps.

Conditions in the camps are dire and characterized by overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to justice.

Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy several important rights; for example, they cannot work in as many as 39 professions and cannot own property (real estate).

Because they are not formally citizens of another state, Palestine refugees are unable to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon.

UNRWA has said that poverty and unemployment among Palestine refugees in Lebanon has reached 80 per cent.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are three times more likely to die with COVID-19 than the population as a whole, according to UN figures that highlight the pandemic’s outsized impact on the community.

In the year since Lebanon registered its first case, about 5,800 have been infected with the coronavirus and about 200 of them have died, said UNRWA.

That is three times the COVID-19 mortality rate for the country as a whole of just over 1%.

Most Palestinians who died after contracting the disease in Lebanon had health conditions such as cardiac or pulmonary issues, which are aggravated by poverty and conditions in the camps, stated UNRWA last month.

The UN body supports more than 5 million Palestinian refugees. However, in 2018, the Trump administration had cut financial aid to it and also slashed an aid of more than $200 million to Palestine in the same year.

Also, the UAE has massively cut back funding for the UN agency, following the Palestinians’ condemnation of the normalization deals between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and ‘Israel’.

The Center for Near East Policy Research, an Israeli NGO, said that while the UAE sent the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) $53 million in 2018 and $51 million in 2019, it provided the agency a mere $1 million in 2020, as the UNRWA confirmed the data to Channel 12.

Last month, UNRWA called for US$1.5 billion to fund its essential services, emergency appeals and priority projects for registered Palestine refugees in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Of the required US$1.5 billion, US$806 million are needed for core services, such as education, health, relief and social services, protection and infrastructure and camp improvement.

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