Palestinian refugees seek closer ties with host communities

November 5th, 2009 | Posted in Beirut, Lebanon, Palestine
    Daily Star by Dalila Mahdawi, Wednesday, October 28, 2009


    Photo: Stefan Christoff Wires over the street in Ein El Hilweh

BEIRUT: Most Palestinian refugees in southern Lebanon believe greater interaction with their Lebanese neighbors would help dismantle the prejudices and misconceptions that abound between the two communities, a recent report said.

The report, entitled “Community Perspectives on Protection: A Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Analysis of Palestinian Communities in Southern Lebanon,” also found Palestinians endured high levels of familial and community violence because residents of formal camps and informal gatherings lack the necessary space and institutions where they can otherwise release their frustration.

Published on Wednesday by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and Palestinian Refugee Protection Project, and funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department, the report questioned 764 Palestinian residents from five camps and 10 gatherings in south Lebanon about their needs, opinions and experiences of protection.

Author Samaa Abu Sharar said she hoped it would highlight how an understanding of the protection needs of Palestinian refugees could be integrated into the projects of non-governmental organizations like DRC and the UN Palestinian aid agency UNRWA.

“DRC believes that real change will only be possible when key community members are engaged in working to improve their own protection environment, based on their priorities and solutions,” she said.

There are 422,188 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as well as an unknown number of non-registered Palestinians who fall outside of the scope of UNRWA. They are subject to severe restrictions of movement, are forbidden from owning or repairing property and are barred from all but the most menial professions.

Together with those prohibitions, many Palestinians said a lack of interaction and bitterness left over from Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War meant the majority of Lebanese viewed them with suspicion and disdain. All those interviewed, including children as young as seven years old, related emotional accounts of discrimination they had experienced, the report said.

“A Lebanese has no idea how we live, they think we are all criminals because that is portrayed in the news,” said a young woman from Ain al-Hilweh, a camp that regularly attracts attention for factional fighting. Many of the Palestinians interviewed for the report said dialogue and joint projects with the Lebanese would help change that image.

The absence of effective community policing and conflict-resolution tools means Palestinians also endure significant domestic and public violence, the report said. “Sexual and gender-based violence is prevalent, although rarely reported, and corporal punishment is widely used at home” and at UNRWA schools.

The report said respondents expressed frustration and a sense of “imprisonment” caused by myriad army checkpoints around the camps or by their lack of identification papers, which made them susceptible to arrest and imprisonment.

“I once built a flower container in front of the house, the next day Lebanese soldiers came and destroyed it under the pretext that we are not allowed to built anything on land that is not ours,” one man in the Jal al-Baher gathering said.

The lack of free movement, squalid living conditions, and acute boredom pushed many Palestinians towards substance abuse or into violence, the report said, noting many of those interviewed expressed a desire for gymnasiums, social clubs, rehabilitation centers or libraries in their communities. Many refugees hinge their hopes of a better future on emigration.

Disabled and elderly Palestinians suffered even more than their able-bodied compatriots, the report said, citing even fewer economic opportunities and a lack of classrooms equipped for disabled students, and almost no social or medical centers for the disabled or elderly.

Many elderly people said they felt they put a heavy financial burden on families already struggling to make ends meet.

Many said that they wanted to feel useful and had skills like carpentry or tailoring, and that they wished to pass on to younger generations.

Unlike results noted by NGOs a few years ago, many Palestinians now view the armed factions present in their communities “as more of a problem than a solution,” the report said.

Those who were interviewed said that they felt unsafe in their communities because of their lack of rights, poverty, and the threat of detainment by the Lebanese Army.

They also criticized the Palestinian Liberation Organization and UNRWA for failing to provide adequate services.

“There is corruption within the ranks of UNRWA,” said one man quoted in the report.

“It is as if they are trying to make Palestinian refugees desperate or force them to emigrate, or drive them to become [involved in extremism].”

1 Comment »

the report can be downloaded from here:

Comment by DRC — November 6th, 2009 @ 5:49 AM

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