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  The Refugees

Situation of Refugees 2000

The situation of Palestinian
refugees in Lebanon in 2000

2000: a crucial year with regard to the
question of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

The problem of Palestinian refugees was at the center of Lebanese concerns with the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the South of Lebanon (May 25 2000), and the Camp David peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Withdrawal of Israeli troops from South-Lebanon. Even before the early withdrawal of the Tsahal from positions occupied in South Lebanon, the Lebanese President, General Emile LAHOUD reaffirmed (March 14 2000) that the question regarding the future of the Palestinian refugees will not be solved with the departure of Israel. A month later, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Farouk EL CHAREH, estimated that the Palestinian question was subject to a global framework-agreement.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Peace negotiations between Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ehud Barak encountered obstacles when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat demanded the return of all Palestinian refugees, including those of 1948 and of 1967. In reality, he was just expressing the wish of Arab countries that had received Palestinian refugees. Indeed, Lebanese President, General Emile LAHOUD stated, on September 9 2000, that the Middle East would only find peace once all Palestinian refugees have regained an Independent Palestine. Four days later, Prime Minister Selim Hoss reaffirmed before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, his refusal to see Palestinian refugees settling in Lebanon for good. On September 16 2000, the day before the Commemoration of the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, a group of human rights activists and Italian members of parliament brought their support to the claims of refugees to regain Palestine.

Al Aqsa Intifada. Since the beginning of the Intifada, thousands of Palestinians living in camps and supported by organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have shown support to the Palestinian people, considered as victims of Israeli repression. Gradually, all Palestinian camps, particularly the one in Ein El Helweh (see map), started to follow closely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, this conflict reunited again refugees in Lebanon and Palestinians in the occupied territories in their struggle to seek the independence of their homeland. During the entire months of October and November, the tension escalated and on October 14 2000, United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFL) urged the Lebanese government to reinforce its presence in South-Lebanon so as to prevent demonstrations at the border: on October 7, two Palestinian refugees were killed at the border and on October 10, a grenade was thrown on a Israeli position at the border in Ramiyeh. Meanwhile, the number of protests continued to increase. On November 2 2000, close to 300 children from two Palestinian camps in the region of Tyre (see map) denounced, during a protest, "The crimes against children perpetrated by Israel". Yet, despite the claims to let Palestinian refugees regain their homeland, reasserted by President Emile LAHOUD, it looks as if Palestinians refugees will be staying in Lebanon for good.

The daily life of refugees and the assistance of the UNRWA

Many criticized the part played by UNRWA during the year 2000. Yet, UNRWA blamed the lack of means and the increasing difficulty to face the urgent needs of the camps for not being able to properly assist refugees.

UNRWA. On April 12 2000, L'Orient-Lejour newspaper published a cover story on the daily suffering of Palestinian refugees in the camp Nahr el-Bared (see map). The shortage of healthcare supplies and infant mortality (higher than the Lebanese average) made living conditions very difficult and increased the psychological suffering of these refugees, some of which are third generation.

The newspaper reported that the decrease in UNRWA's budget and the shortage in education services to the Palestinian refugees were at the center of the numerous protests held by the refugees. On September 19, 50 students started a hunger strike in front of UNRWA headquarters demanding the reopening of secondary schools in the camps located in the North of the country. Despite of additional funds of the amount of 9 million dollars granted by the UN to the UNRWA on September 28, the latter estimated that it lacked the financial means to support the ever-growing needs of more than 370 000 Palestinian refugees.

Refugee life. Refugees (not only Palestinians) that have sought asylum in Lebanon complain of governmental neglect. If funds ran short, refugees cannot be naturalized as Lebanese citizens and cannot work legally, since Lebanon has not signed the 1951 Convention on the statute of refugees (international instruments).

A part from "the Olympic day" for Palestinian refugees organized by 3 ONG on October 2nd, most planned cultural or artistic events in the Palestinian camps take place under the label of Palestinian nationalism. On November 3, Palestinian commemorated the Declaration of Balfour that promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Women and Children held demonstrations against colonialism in Israel. Exhibits were organized and educational classes were given in schools within the camps…

What with the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the election of Ariel Sharon in Israel in February 2001, the hopes of seeing refugees returning to their homeland are decreasing. Even Palestinians, men, women and the elderly have declared dreaming of their homeland but not imagining themselves regaining it.

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