Palestinian refugees have been occupying parts of Lebanon for decades and not without consequence for the Palestinian and Lebanese populations. In 1948 Palestinians who called the northern areas of Israel home were under attack and threatened by ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Israeli military. These people fled to nearby countries and roughly 100,000 refugees, only 14% of the total refugee population, escaped beyond the Lebanese border. Today, nearly three generations have lived and died as refugees, unable to move forward and not allowed to go back.
Today the number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon is highly controversial. However, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Lebanese Government have estimated the current population to be around 415,000, and have thus divided this population into three refugee categories. The first group consists of refugees registered with the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the near East) and the Lebanese Government. This portion of Palestinian refugees was estimated to be over 400,000 in 2006. The second group accounts for anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 refugees which are registered with the Lebanese authorities, but not with the UNRWA. The final group is non-ID Palestinian refugees, the number of their population is in question and has been documented anywhere from 3,000 to 16,000 by multiple different organizations. The non-ID Palestinians in Lebanon mostly arrived in the 1970’s after Black September in Jordan and due to the civil war in Lebanon most did not think registration was necessary. Residing in Lebanon without documentation means no access to education, work, health care, or travel. However, the UNRWA offers aid to all three categories of refugees in Lebanon because it considers the circumstances of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to be the most difficult, as compared to the five other places of operation Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank.
Presently in Lebanon there are twelve official refugee camps and 15 unofficial “gatherings” of Palestinians. The population in the twelve official camps is approximately 215,000, comprising only half of the registered Palestinian population in Lebanon. The space of land allocated for the refugees has not changed since 1948, so with a growing population the only direction they have been able to grow in is up. However, construction materials have not been allowed to enter the camps since the 1990’s, therefore buildings do not meet the safety standards set by the international community. Poverty and unemployment is the norm in these refugee camps. Lebanon’s effort to segregate the Palestinian population from the Lebanese population has hindered any chances of the Palestinian people absorbing into the Lebanese way of life. Is this separation being drawn because Lebanon wants to encourage Palestinians to fight for their land instead of forging a new home? Or is Lebanon simply unwilling to take on the burden of assimilating a new ethnic population into their already complicated political system? What are the motivations of keeping the Palestinian people stagnate and unable to grow?
What will the future hold? From 1959 until present day Israel has refused to implement UN General Assembly Resolution 194. Today, the intentions of Resolution 194 are highly debated. Many Palestinians and Arab’s of other nations see the resolution as a ‘right to return’ to the land that once belonged to their ancestors. While others see Palestinian Arabs distorting the intention of the resolution in order to eliminate Israel since the resolution is non-binding and does not specific the nationalities of the refugees. Resolution 194 directly states that ‘that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.’ Is this open for interpretation? What is the purpose of international treaties if they are only to be considered “suggestions”? Most importantly, will the Palestinian people forever be deemed refugees?