Palestinian youth in Lebanon see no hope in the future

More than 70% of Palestinian refugees from Lebanon live in poverty and 5% in extreme poverty.
Friday 22/06/2018
Keeping hope alive. Palestinian refugees fix a camera on a helium balloon before flying it over different parts of the Burj al-Shamali refugee camp in southern of Lebanon. (AFP)
Keeping hope alive. Palestinian refugees fix a camera on a helium balloon before flying it over different parts of the Burj al-Shamali refugee camp in southern of Lebanon. (AFP)

BEIRUT - With difficult access to good education and health services, economic marginalisation and restrictions on employment, Palestinian youth are the most affected by refugees’ harsh living conditions in Lebanon.

Many Palestinian camp dwellers in Lebanon feel apathetic, depressed and hopeless about their future. They often end up using drugs or joining armed groups within the camps, according to a study commissioned by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees, and the United Nationals Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The socio-economic and political conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon have a major impact on young people’s lives and aspirations. Lack of civil rights, unemployment, insecurity and dire conditions in camps limit their opportunities and hopes for education, affect their health and trap them in hopeless situations, said the study conducted by the Centre for Lebanese Studies (CLS) released in early May.

“The study’s objective is to assess the living conditions, health, economics, education, security, mobility, as well as psychological well-being of Palestinian youth 10-24 of age,” said Maha Shuayb, the centre’s director. “It includes Palestinians born in Lebanon and those who came from Syria, fleeing the conflict there.”

The assessment was carried out between February and May 2017 and involved face-to-face interviews with 958 Palestinian refugees from Lebanon (PRL) and 102 Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in eight camps across Lebanon. The sample also included group discussions with 119 Palestinian youth and caretakers such as parents and school officials.

Findings show that more than 70% of PRL live in poverty and 5% in extreme poverty ($75 per person per month) while 90% of PRS live in poverty and more than 10% in extreme poverty.

Housing conditions were among the top complaints with 89% of respondents describing their housing as extremely wet and poor. Some 50% had to move houses at least twice, the most common reason being that they could not afford the rent.

Economic conditions were respondents’ top complaint, notably difficulties finding jobs, Shuayb noted. “More than 40% of PRS and PRL have difficulties paying the bills for essential goods and services, such as electricity and food. Some 20% were working full time, more than 20% unemployed and 11% were unemployed but not looking for a job. Among those who are working, 50% earned little compared to the long working hours they do,” she said.

“However, the interesting finding in this study compared to a previous one conducted in 2009 was the youth emphasis on civil rights,” Shuayb said. “No such awareness existed before. Now they are more aware and they really want to do something about it, their right to work and own property.”

Palestinian refugees are barred from owning property in Lebanon and working in most sectors. Since 2005 they have been granted the right to practise about 70 professions that were previously restricted to Lebanese nationals. However, they are still prohibited from working in key professions, including all medical jobs, engineering and law.

Security and mobility were also major concerns for Palestinian youth, who are more likely not to intentionally leave the camp for fear of being stopped at Lebanese Army checkpoints at the entrances of camps. That is particularly true for PRS youth who lack legal residency permits.

The study served as a guideline for UNRWA in devising a Palestinian youth strategy aimed at increasing access to education services, job creation initiatives and empowerment by using the latest technologies.

“We are more than aware today of the importance of devising a strategy that targets the young Palestinians in Lebanon and introduce a positive change to their situation,” said Abdelnasser al-Ayali, representing the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, a consultative body advising the government on improving the living conditions of Palestinians.

“We need to change our traditional approach to dealing with the issue of Palestinian presence in Lebanon. The most important thing is to create a political will in order to implement any serious strategy for the youth who have long been marginalised,” al-Ayali said.

“We believe that constructive political dialogue would reduce the fears and concerns of the Lebanese. This is a key to changing the situation of the Palestinians and this is what we are working on as a committee,” he added.

The Lebanese government is strongly opposed to the resettling of the mostly Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees who played a controversial role in the country’s civil war from 1975 to 1990. More than 450,000 refugees are officially registered with UNRWA in Lebanon but the real number is believed to be less than half that, as many have either died or relocated.