29 June 2010
Lebanese politicians are considering easing restrictions on Palestinian refugees, after 62 years.
Like the tangled electricity wires at Bourj al Barajne camp outside Beirut, the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon is complicated.
Despite the fact that many have been living in Lebanon for generations, they are still refugees, and as such are forced to live in squalid camps, are denied access to the state's social security, health-care or education systems, and can only work in menial jobs. Many are growing frustrated with their conditions.
Abou el Walid is a community leader at the Bourj al Barajne. “We are suffering,” he said in his native Arabic. “We lived the hardship and we do not need anything but living in a decent way. We want to be proud; we need the right to work and the right to own property, and rights to live as a human being.”
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, there are an estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps throughout Lebanon. They are descendants of families who fled the fighting in 1948 that eventually created the state of Israel.
Brahim Al Ashwah is a 47-year-old father of six who also lives in the camp. He says he wants to buy a house for his son so that he can get married, but does not have the money.
“You can barely find a job here,” he says. “No one will hire you because you are Palestinian. You cannot work in a company because you are Palestinian. No health insurance, no life at all. I have a boy in university. I pulled him out because even if he graduates, he cannot find a job.”
During the weekend, thousands of activists marched to the Lebanese capital to demand rights for Palestinians. Under the watchful eye of Lebanese security forces, they urged the country's politicians to approve a draft law that would give them employment and property ownership guarantees.
Although some Lebanese politicians are considering giving Palestinians more rights, opponents argue that could pave the way to their naturalization.
Since a vast majority of the refugees are Sunni Muslims, Christian leaders fear such a large influx of citizens could tilt the sectarian balance, as well as increase competition in the job market and strain Lebanon's economic resources.
Manal Kassab, who is half Lebanese, half Palestinian, was among them. She says Palestinians do not want citizenship, just dignity. "There is no need for the Palestinians to be naturalized and they do not want to be naturalized,” she said. “They wanted to be treated as a special category in Lebanon and to abide by all the international conventions; having the right to work, right to ownership, but the nationality is not a need."
That is because most Palestinians still hope they will return to their lives, families and properties in what is now modern-day Israel. In the mean time, activists have presented a draft law to members of Parliament outlining their requests. Requests they say would allow Palestinians access to a normal life.