Overcoming the barriers for the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

Refugees who have left their homelands behind, are the most vulnerable in our world today. They are people who have been left stranded and with no place to appeal to for the protection of their rights. Desperate and unprotected, they are often lacking even the basic means to move forward in life. They are stateless.

This has especially been the case for the Palestinians living in Lebanon for the last seven decades. Confined to some twelve refugee camps across the country, over 250,000 Palestinians today do not hold the nationality of a recognized state.

The words of Nazih Chabayeta, a resident of the Ein En Helweh refugee camp, delineates the feelings of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon with heartrending candour: “[A] Homeland is home even if you live under olive trees”, he says. His soulful remark leaves a deep impression on anyone who has probably never thought of what it would be like to be “a stateless person.” “We don’t have a homeland. We are refugees here”, he adds.

Nazih Chabayeta, a Palestinian engineer, is only one of the hundreds of well- educated residents of the camp who are not legally permitted to work even as a taxi driver in Lebanon. There are doctors, engineers and lawyers who, despite all the hardship they had in their lives, were able to have scholarships to receive their Bachelor’s Degrees in Lebanon or abroad. However, they can’t practice their professions no matter how qualified they are. Mr. Chabayeta’s explanation about their situation is concise: “We are prohibited from working, so we don’t compete with the Lebanese here.”

During the sixty-eight years of exile, new generations are born and raised in these camps with no improvement in respect to their civil and social rights and liberties. The poverty-stricken milieu  - with narrow alleys and houses built on top of one another - gives an overview of the abject conditions prevailing in the camps. Woefully neglected, the camps are far from providing for the essential needs of the inhabitants. Houses lack basic infrastructure; the absence of electricity, fresh water and proper wastewater treatment are a constant health threat. Meanwhile, on the grounds that construction could encourage permanent refugee settlement in the country, the government has banned the construction of permanent structures in the camps. This ban also prevents maintenance of old houses which explains the poor appearance of the camps.

The young members of refugee families, for whom the prospect of being hired for regular jobs is very dim in Lebanon, often set out for other countries, leaving their families behind. Such separation of families also adds to the predicament these people have been experiencing over the years.

From what has been observed during these seven decades and is also verified in the reports of various international human rights organizations, it is an irrefutable fact that the Lebanese authorities are adamant about restraining the human, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and liberties of Palestinian refugees, while their integration into society is hindered by socio-cultural factors and the fractured political and sectarian system.

Various problems associated with the policies directed at refugees in Lebanon can be overcome by legal amendments. Being a participant in many international human rights declarations, charters and conventions, Lebanon is obliged to fulfill its legal and humanitarian commitments defined under these contracts. However, for any type of regulatory protection and framework to be put into effect, a tangible and heartfelt humanitarian basis must be laid at the level of the state and society as a whole. The Lebanese society must primarily believe that, above anything else, only an environment of tranquility, amity and compassion would benefit and improve their country. For such an improved outcome, they must choose solidarity over division, unity over enmity, and collaboration with all different demographics of the society over the ostracism of some.

Indeed, Lebanon remains seriously divided by sectarian allegiances, as does the entire Middle East. The integration of the mostly Sunni Palestinian refugees into Lebanese society is considered a threat to the fragile balance barely maintained among the sectarian groups in the country. That is why improvement of the refugees’ quality of life essentially depends on the settlement of these sectarian issues among the different strata of society. Needless to say discrimination against members of different sects or Christians bears no beneficiary results, but only brings conflicts and tensions and undermines the economic and socio-cultural welfare of society. The divisions are obvious and can be easily identifiable throughout the whole region. Therefore, it is crucial that Lebanon remains out of this scourge and welcomes the Palestinian society as its own.

Alternatively, Lebanon will remain a weak country with distressed socioeconomic undercurrents keeping all of its population from further prosperity.  Not eliminating such contradictory policies would keep Lebanon distant from its aspiration of being considered the home of modern Arab culture, expression, and art.  Such policies will only isolate, depress, and decrease any economic prosperity for both the refugees and the Lebanese society as a whole. Integration and education of these refugees into society, will positively impact the economics of Lebanon, since many refugees can ultimately contribute back to society, improving the life standards and GDP of the country as a whole.

Also it should never be forgotten that Palestinians and the Lebanese people are two nations sharing the same geography. Being neighbors, they are historically connected and share a similar culture. They should meet with the underlying principles of love, respect, understanding, harmony and cooperation.

For the well being of all individuals living within the borders of Lebanon, the majority must start focusing on the shared values rather than magnifying the differences. Once the painful experiences of the past are set aside, it will be possible to maintain a robust society built upon the foundation of solidarity.

Adnan Oktar's piece in American Herald Tribune:


2016-05-14 18:22:51

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