After escaping the violence in Syria, Palestinian refugees who recently arrived in Lebanon are encountering a bureaucratic nightmare as they struggle to obtain basic housing and health care.
More than 300 Palestinian refugee families have fled camps in Syria to the homes of relatives in the refugee camps of Ain al-Hilweh and Mieh Mieh, as well as the city of Sidon.
The communities hosting the refugees are unable to accommodate the steady tide of newcomers from Syria, especially as little outside aid is being funneled to help them.
A number of Palestinian and Lebanese civil society organizations are working to provide aid and donations for the families.
“What we’ve been able to do so far is to provide new clothes as well as financial aid to 53 families,” said Jamal Khattab, a key Islamist official in Ain al-Hilweh, which is the largest of Lebanon’s camps and is hosting some 200 of the families.
The funds came from local humanitarian organizations and efforts are being made to secure further funds, Khattab added.
But the Palestinian refugees, who are registered in Syria, are having difficulty accessing the resources of the U.N. Relief and Work Agency in Lebanon.
Refugees who are ill and need to be hospitalized are unable to obtain a referral from UNRWA clinics which is necessary for them to be admitted to hospitals in Lebanon.
In the face of the refugees’ uncertain status in Lebanon, civil society organizations held a meeting Monday in Ain al-Hilweh to discuss what could be done to help Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Members of the groups gave a UNRWA official attending the meeting a letter calling on the U.N. organization to take responsibility for the families, likewise calling on the Palestine Liberation Organization to do its part.
The meeting also called on Lebanese authorities to waive administrative procedures that further burden refugees, especially residency permits, which are a financial burden for the families and must be renewed every three months.
The organizations warned that they would stage a protest in front of UNRWA if the agency doesn’t provide the necessary care for the Palestinian refugees from Syria.
According to Khattab, the current situation in the camp is unsustainable.
“The homes are small and this cannot last for very long,” he said, warning that the problem would become a full-blown crisis.
In some cases, a large family of eight is staying with an equally large family in small quarters, Khattab said, mentioning the possibility of schools being opened to house the families.
As for health care, Khattab said that international agencies are shirking their responsibility.
“We’ve been in touch with Red Cross and Doctors without Borders and UNRWA, but none of these institutions have provided any aid,” he said. “Each tries to lay responsibly for the new refugees at the feet of the others.”
“UNRWA has allowed sick refugees to be examined in clinics, however, it has not transferred them to hospitals,” Khattab continued. “This week, we will call on UNRWA, which is responsible for Palestinian refugees, to find a solution to the situation.”
Previously, Palestinians who have come from Syria to Lebanon have been able to receive permission to go to Lebanese hospitals by calling the UNRWA operations in Syria to get approval.
Since UNRWA’s administration in Damascus is closed, Khattab recommended that the Lebanese offices of UNRWA call the main center in Gaza to secure permission. “If UNRWA does not respond,” Khattab said, “We will hold sit-ins and demonstrations.”