Lebanon hosted about 409,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection in 2002, more than 10 percent of the population of Lebanon. These included 387,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), another approximately 16,000 non-registered Palestinian refugees who are residing in Lebanon, more than 3,000 other refugees recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and around 3,400 asylum seekers awaiting a UNHCR decision on their refugee claims. Most of the non-Palestinian refugees are Iraqis and Sudanese.

Palestinian Rights and Legal Status

Unlike Palestinian refugees in Syria and Jordan, Palestinians in Lebanon are denied the right to work in skilled professions. This has led to a very high rate of unemployment amongst the refugee population. Palestinians are also prohibited from buying property in Lebanon. Lebanese law prohibits them even from inheriting property already in their family's possession. They also lack basic civil rights and are ineligible for most public services. The majority of Palestinians rely solely on UNRWA for relief, health, and social services.

Moreover, Lebanon's constitution forbids "implantation," which authorities generally interpret to preclude the permanent integration of Palestinians into the country. This rejection of permanent settlement has led Lebanon's government to oppose all policies and actions that could be construed as accepting or facilitating Palestinian integration.

Palestinians are also denied access to Lebanese health care and other social services, and most are unable to attend Lebanese schools and universities. The government restricts building in and around Palestinian refugee camps, forcing many refugees to live in overcrowded, unsanitary, and substandard housing.

On the other hand, the Lebanese government did continue to issue travel documents to Palestinians, enabling them to travel and work abroad.

Assistance to Palestinians

Dwindling international assistance and draconian Lebanese restrictions had a negative impact on the living conditions for Palestinian refugees. Almost fully dependent on outside aid, they continued to feel the effects of cuts in international assistance in 2002. UNRWA's 2002 General Fund Budget for Lebanon – to provide assistance for nearly 390,000 registered refugees – was a mere $48.1 million. UNRWA, the sole provider of relief aid and social services to refugees was forced to implement austerity measures and cut services. In response, various Palestinian groups staged demonstrations and sit-ins in Saida (Sidon) and Tyre, in southern Lebanon.

Factions in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in Saida, the largest in Lebanon, accused UNRWA officials of corruption and squandering agency funds. In early November, Lebanese police arrested Hani Khalil, a chief auditor with UNRWA in Lebanon, while allegedly smuggling medicine intended for Palestinian refugees out of the country. In December, UNRWA decided to temporarily move its south Lebanon operations to Beirut, a move that many Palestinians protested.

Approximately 217,000 Palestinians live in 12 official refugee camps characterized by overcrowding and unemployment. Some 11 percent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon – the highest rate among Palestinians in all UNRWA areas – lived in poverty and were registered with UNRWA's special hardship program. By the end of 2002, the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who were registered as special hardship cases rose to nearly 43,200.

Non-Palestinian Refugees

Lebanon is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention and, unlike Jordan, there is no memorandum of understanding with UNHCR concerning the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR, however, was working with the Lebanese government on an agreement to better protect asylum seekers and refugees.

In 2002, there were more than 3,000 refugees and 3,400 asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Lebanon, mostly Iraqis. Waiting periods for refugee status determinations were long and UNHCR was trying to decrease them. Recognized refugees are generally allowed to reside in Lebanon for a one-year period, during which time UNHCR has to find a resettlement solution for them in the absence of local integration or voluntary repatriation.

The Lebanese government reportedly arrested, detained, and deported non-Palestinian asylum seekers, refugees, and persons of concern. The situation was exacerbated by UNHCR's inability to provide sufficient assistance.

One refugee, an Iraqi dissident, was killed in Lebanon, sowing fear among other Iraqis. Prior to his assassination in December 2002, several other dissidents had received death threats.

Long-Term Internal Displacement

Lebanon's civil war caused the violent fragmentation of a pluralistic society into fairly distinct sectarian areas. At the height of the conflict, up to 1 million people were internally displaced for long periods of time, and many people were often displaced briefly during the course of the fighting. When the civil war ended in 1991, some 90,000 families, or about 450,000 persons, remained displaced. Some 86 percent originated from the Mount Lebanon governorate (62 percent) and southern Lebanon (24 percent). Many of the displaced, particularly from the south, settled in Beirut.

Internally displaced persons in Lebanon include those from the internal conflict and civil war, which broke Lebanon into sectarian districts, and those displaced by the Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982. The 1978 invasion displaced about 200,000 mostly Shi'a Muslims and 65,000 Palestinians from the south of the country.

The government offered compensation to internally displaced people to rebuild homes, but the vast majority of the displaced have not reclaimed their properties. The government set the end of 2002 as the target for the return of all displaced, but there were still 300,000 in Lebanon as of mid-2002.

Return has been slow due to corruption and political rivalries between government officials, lack of money, and security concerns. However, the UN agencies and international donors continued to support the government's efforts to reintegrate the internally displaced.

Many villages were partially or totally destroyed, employment options were limited, and security was still inadequate. The destruction of infrastructure, shortage of schools, and lack of economic opportunities prevented returns to many villages of origin. Several hundred thousand landmines located in the south have caused death and injury. In addition, cross-border fighting between the Israeli forces and Hizballah guerrillas continued.


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