June 20, 2020

London - There is no doubt that the Corona pandemic displaced many of the topics that usually attract our daily attention from being at the international news to marginal news, however, the Corona virus contributed in shedding the light on the hard situation the Palestinian refugees are going through in Lebanon. On the United Nations’ World Refugee Day, Ipalestine, as a representative of the Palestinian civil society in Palestine and the diaspora, reflects the reality that refugees are going through in refugee camps in Lebanon during the Corona pandemic. Ipalestine brings this topic into discussion as a result of the state of tension and incompatibility between the Palestinian factions in Lebanon, along with civil society institutions and national committees on the one hand, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on the other hand. This comes after the accusation of the first side of the latter's failure to carry out its duties towards the Palestinian refugees during the current "Corona" crisis.

In the overcrowded camps in Lebanon, Palestinian refugees in difficult circumstances find themselves facing a new catastrophe that the spread of the new Corona virus may generate among their ranks. In Lebanon, housing at least 174,000 Palestinian refugees, 1388 cases have been recorded with Covid 19, two Palestinians were found to hold the virus putting the overcrowded Palestinian camps in risk, where it is impossible to implement domestic isolation. According to the civil society working for the needs of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the “Corona virus” posed great difficulties, imposing measures that led to people stopping their work, high unemployment and poverty, along with denial of the most basic human rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Therefore, it remained up to The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and its role that did not rise to the level of responsibility, under the pretext of its financial deficit, and also on the shoulders of civil society institutions with its modest and limited capabilities.

The Palestinian camps in Lebanon, whether the constructed homes that have been attached to each other for decades or modern ones made up of modest tents, remain the most vulnerable to a wider and faster spread of the epidemic. The residents of these camps have already been suffering mainly from a lack of basic services, and their dependence on international aid in the first place. Also, Palestinian camps with high population density lack sanitation and water supplies necessary for personal hygiene to counter the virus, and their overcrowding does not help to implement preventive measures, including social distancing. Accordingly, with the absence of their own hospitals, all Palestinian cases must be transferred to Lebanese hospitals, which may not have the beds needed to treat a large number of patients who need intensive care.

In this regard, civil society organizations along with national Palestinian committees threw a question mark on the UNRWA’s hand in the deteriorating living conditions in the camps in the light of the Corona crisis. Likewise, the UNRWA, in this regard, was accused for starving the Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese camps through procrastinating and using delaying tactics in providing assistance the refugees. This comes after the reluctance of the UNRWA to implement its role in sterilizing neighborhoods in camps, protecting sanitation workers, providing them with protective clothing and equipment, removing and sterilizing waste. Likewise, the UNRWA’s unequal strategy in providing aids and discriminating against some of the refugees made it urgent for civil society institutions, associations, and national committees to intervene and help the Palestinian refugees to combat and confront the implications of the domestic self-isolation imposed by the Lebanese government on the Lebanese citizens along with refugees in the country.  

Accordingly, to avoid unwanted consequences of the spread of the virus in the camp, civil society organizations took over the protector role and raised the level of mobilization to confront the "Corona virus", in commitment to public mobilization and a health emergency, announced by the Lebanese government. Therefore, Palestinian civil society organizations, immediately, with the support of the political, national, and medical forces became involved in sterilization, spraying, and awareness campaigns on the basis of "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of treatment". Any outbreak of the virus means a health catastrophe in the Palestinian refugee camps, which have a population density that promotes the spread of viruses and infectious diseases among the refugees. Thus, this necessitated a Palestinian preparedness in the camps to prevent the spread of the Corona epidemic in the camps, as one case carrying the virus in one of the camps is capable of threatening thousands of Palestinians living in the camp. Despite this risk, the Lebanese Ministry of Health does not see the need to take special or exceptional measures inside the camps, which puts the health of many Palestinians who if infected by the virus under a great risk.

Furthermore, the Palestinian Civil Society Commission in Lebanon revealed that the percentage of poverty and destitution within the Palestinian refugee community in various Lebanese regions has exceeded 90% after hundreds of jobs have been lost. As an expression of their sense of responsibility, a series of collective and individual initiatives took place in addition to political moves, and they were concentrated in three directions: “awareness, sterilization, and social solidarity”, in order to help the camp residents who suffer from poverty and hunger in light of the stifling economic crisis, health preparedness for any emergency , and to follow-up on the daily details inside the Palestinian camps. These initiatives expanded to include the readiness to carry out relief campaigns, preventive measures, awareness-raising operations, sterilization, supervision, control and attention, and to provide urgent relief assistance to Palestinian camps in Lebanon.

It’s essential to note that for Palestinians, the ugly reality of being a refugee expands to include the absence of any political horizon, which is still convey a sense of hope that even 70 years after the genesis of the Palestinian refugee crisis there is still hope. Being eagerly longing to return back to their homelands, Palestinians never let go hope, since its hope alone that feeds the Palestinians own sense of determination which neither time nor distance will stand between them and their Right of Return. This honored right is etched in the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians everywhere.

With all these precautionary measures in the midst of these disturbing developments, these camps are still under the risk of the spread of the Corona epidemic. Therefore, Palestinian Civil society organization call for the establishing of a crisis cell includes representatives of the Lebanese Ministry of Health, UNRWA and the Palestinian authorities, whose mission will be to develop plans to combat the virus, including preparing a quarantine center in every area where there is a Palestinian refugee camp, to transfer any suspected case and quarantine it, and to deploy medical teams, coordination and supervision, With all the necessary preventive measures, sterilization, instructions and awareness, in addition to the important directives for the syndrome of homes, avoiding friction, canceling gatherings, not leaving the camps except for the necessary cases, and providing food assistance to the Palestinian community in Lebanon.