- Published on Thursday, 24 May 2012 12:27
A desktop study doneabout the Palestinian Refugees in UNRWA camps in Arab neighboring countries: Last Part Similar aspects in the UNRWA's fields of operation " Syria, lebanon, Jordan and West Bank and Gaza :
By Diala Khalaf
According to the analysis we shared you in the last weeks about the aspects in terms of social, cultural and physiological conditions in the five UNRWA's fields of operation; we can notice that the situation for refugees living in UNRWA camps in the discussed countries is worse than for other segments in terms of social, cultural and physiological conditions, but even the camp populations do not face homogeneously poor living conditions, nor do they constitute the main poverty problem of the host countries.
The exception to the general observation above is Lebanon, where all indicators point to poorer living conditions than in other areas. Also living conditions in camps are in general poorer in Lebanon and in Gaza, and again the differentials seem to be greater between the host countries than between host and refugee populations within the same country. In this sense, the social, cultural and psychological conditions of refugees are influenced by the local context. In 2003, 23% of Palestinian households living in camps in Syria were poor (having income less than two dollars a day per person), and 5% were extremely poor (income less than one dollar per day per person); in Lebanon 35% were poor, and 15% were extremely poor; and in Jordan 31% were poor, and 9% were extremely poor. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip poverty was particularly high within refugee camps compared with outside the camps, although the rate of poverty in the Gaza Strip 33% was more than double that of the West Bank's 15%.(Egset et al. 2003).
The refugee population, of course, has not been able to choose their area of living freely; it has been imposed on them. But this has not prevented them from creating neighbourhoods consisting of social and family networks that look like the situation of their Palestinian villages, these larger family groups are stabilizing the social space for the refugees where they live. The best situation is found in Gaza camps, while the rural camps in the West Bank as well as camps in Jordan Syria and Lebanon score poorer on these indicators. The living conditions of Palestinian refugees vary greatly according to where they reside. In Jordan, for example, refugees were granted citizenship in 1954 and have full employment rights and social services access. In Lebanon, by contrast, Palestinians have never been allowed to become citizens, and their employment opportunities are limited and strictly regulated. Syria did not grant refugees citizenship, but it has allowed them to work with few restrictions. Palestinians still live in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip face greater social and economic challenges than those living outside the camps (Egset et al. 2003).
We noticed through the research analysis that in Lebanon Palestinian refugees are not admitted to government schools at any level of education while in other Arab countries they are admitted to government schools in Syria, Jordan and West Bank and Gaza. Still in all the host countries and West Bank and Gaza as it might be expected, the low standard of education coupled with the serious lack of technical and vocational training result in the refugees being employed in lower-paid jobs whether in agriculture, industry, building, trades, transport and services. There is also the problem of the overcrowded houses that results in social and psychological problems, in addition to that the lack of renovated schools and having two shifts for education because of the limited schools capacitates in terms of lack of spaces, limited number of teachers and increasing numbers of students affects the students' performance and concentration in schools. Children in the refugees camps are deprived from the right to play and obtain toys or playgrounds where they can express themselves and live their childhood. The lack of clean drinking water and even lack of sewage, garbage disposal and sanitation affect the life of refugee severely which also cause environmental problems to the refugees.
Palestinian refugees are treated in most Arab states as non-nationals and therefore need work permits. In the 1990s, following the Gulf crisis, most Arab states put in place restrictions with regards to Palestinians. Restrictions imposed on Palestinian refugees, as foreign nationals accompanied by stagnant economics led to a high incidence of unemployment among Palestinians (Shiblak 1996, p. 43). Some Palestinians selected to profit from UNRWA work opportunities but others migrated to third countries looking for work abroad mainly in the Gulf States. The lack of income-generating opportunities for refugees in all UNRWA camps leads to an increase in the already high poverty levels to be found in refugee communities in the long-term, this can cause negative effects on other basic human rights such as education, health care, and adequate standard of living. Furthermore, the current scarcity of employment opportunities creates a sense of hopelessness among refugees who find themselves powerless to contribute to their own personal development and the future economic, social and cultural development of their communities. The refugees in all the UNRWA camps that we tackled in this research suffer from overcrowded living conditions and lack of privacy which greatly affect the psycho-social development of the refugee and can often lead to increasing tension and anger among families and between families and their neighbors sentiments which owing to the lack of recreational opportunities.
Palestinians can move freely within Syria and have no limitations as to where they can reside within the country (As-Shaly 1999; Said 2005, p.352). Palestinians having obtained Jordanian nationality have no restrictions on moving or residing in any part of Jordan, those living in refugee camps can choose to leave the camp and live outside it if their economic situation permits that. In Lebanon Palestinians residing in refugee camps needs to file for a permit before moving from one camp to another (Al-Natour 1997, p.363). Also nearly all Arab states restrict Palestinian refugee property ownership. Some restrictions are part of general rules regulating foreign property ownership rights even in Syria where Palestinian refugees in principle enjoy full residency rights; restrictions were imposed preventing them from owning property (Jarrad 1999).
The camp community still stresses traditional values such as respect for elders, family honor and loyalty, not being too individualistic and offering hospitality and generosity. Personal and family disputes are in general handled by the community and the intervention of the camp leaders is often highly efficient. UNRWA camps in fact grew up in spontaneous formation rather than in accordance with some United Nations refugee relief plan; this explains why the various forms of social relationship and organization existing before 1948 have been so well-preserved and why the sense of being Palestinian of the Palestinian "identity" is so strong (Sirhan 1975, p.102). The sense of solidarity, of sharing a common tradition, of looking forward to a common destiny-the return to the homeland- has not only enabled the refugee in all UNRWA camps to survive the long years of hardship and humiliation but also to create bonds of highly conscious community. It may be true that this process was to some extent encouraged by the restricted social conditions within the camps where privacy is almost unknown and where it is impossible to ignore one's neighbors.
Casablanca Protocol in 1965 is a very important initiative relevant to temporary protection of Palestinian refugees in the Arab host states and was undertaken within the League of Arab States. It focuses on the treatment of all Palestinians generally in the Arab host states, it grants all Palestinian refugees equal treatment as nationals of Arab host states with regard of work, the right to leave the country and return to it, freedom of movement between Arab States and the Palestinians shall be provided with valid travel documents and holder of those documents shall be granted same treatment as nationals of the issuing country. The Protocol was adopted by a majority decision of the Council of the Arab League which means that its contents are only binding upon those member states willing to accept them (Takkenberg 1998, p. 144). The Casablanca protocol was clear over the fact that Palestinians shall keep their nationality; only seven member states have ratified the protocol without reservation, including two of the major host countries, Syria and Jordan. Lebanon has endorsed the Casablanca Protocol with reservations expressed on three of the five articles (Khalil 2009, p.16).
According to Badil (2007, p.123-124), investigations conducted by the League of Arab Nations Supervisors Conference have concluded that the implementation of the league standards for the treatment of Palestinians in member states is poor and these standards have decreased particularly since 1991 and the PLO's stand on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait . The League of Arab States adopted resolution 5093 which authorized states to treat Palestinian refugees in accordance with domestic law rather than under the provisions set forth in the 1965 Protocol. Since then, restrictions involving residency rights, freedom of movement, employment, property ownership rights, and access to government services have been imposed on Travel Documents holders in all Arab countries. In addition, education, health, and social benefits for Palestinians are increasingly being cut (Shiblak 1996, p. 42).
The host Arab countries is always claiming and justifying their intention of not granting freedoms and rights for Palestinian refugees or even citizenship in order that this could undermine the Palestinians' right of return.