Imagine if you, your parents and even your grandparents had been born and brought up in Britain since the late nineteen-forties, never leaving the country nor breaking any law. Now imagine that throughout this period of sixty years you and your relatives and had never been granted the right to vote in this country, never been permitted the use of the NHS for health treatment, never been allowed to attend state education, never been granted the right to any social service or pension, never been authorised to work in certain professions including law, medicine and engineering, and had constantly been harassed, discriminated against and viewed with institutional state suspicion.
This, and worse, is the situation that many Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon find themselves in. Since their exodus from Israel in 1948 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been stuck stateless, without basic rights and largely ignored by the international community. Their original number of over 100,000 has grown four-fold, yet still they remain confined to twelve refugee camps which (legally prevented from growing in size) are amongst the most overcrowded places on earth- full of poverty, inadequate housing, dangerous infrastructure, poor sanitation and endemic unemployment. Those who attempt to smuggle building materials through Lebanon’s military checkpoints that guard these refugee camps face fines or imprisonment, those that aspire to complete UN provided secondary education often face insurmountable economic difficulties, and those that cannot afford the costly permits that are needed for Palestinians to legally work often go hungry.
Not only have these refugees faced indignity and violence in their flight from Palestine in 1948, but they have also faced conflict and have become refugees many times over again through successive wars in the region. Lebanon’s civil war of the 1980’s and Israel’s invasion of 1982 resulted in the horrific Sabra and Shatila massacres which killed over 800 Palestinian civilians, while once again in 2006 Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon resulted in Palestinian deaths and destruction of refugee homes.
The current status of affairs for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is familiarly bleak, despite the Lebanese government’s increasing recognition of the difficulties they face. Basic human rights of citizenship, education, health and employment are constantly denied to thousands of refugees- those who should be most entitled to the international community’s protection. Bleak as the situation currently is for the Palestinian refugees of Lebanon, there is hope for future improvement. If the Lebanese government were to turn their recent verbal recognitions into concrete reforms the providing of human rights for Palestinians could benefit Lebanon as a whole. While with growing reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas (and a growing consensus that the Arab Spring has proven non-violent protest should be the tactic of choice) dialogue with Israel holds an increasing chance of alleviating the Palestinian refugee situation to some degree. In a time which is seeing citizens across the Middle East rise up for their human rights, we should not forget those who are not only denied democracy and basic rights, but also citizenship itself.
To learn more about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon please visit- http://www.refugeeyouthproject.org.uk. The Refugee Youth Project runs an educational program in southern Lebanon aiming at giving young refugees the best to start to life in what is an otherwise difficult and dangerous environment.