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memri
March 30, 2018 No.
7406

After Census Finds 174,422 Palestinian Refugees In Lebanon, Some Lebanese Fear They Will Be Permanently Settled In The Country, Others Call To Grant Them Civil Rights

On December 21, 2017, it was reported that a census of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon had counted 174,422 refugees in the country. The census, called " General Census of Refugee Camp Residents And Palestinian Population Centers In Lebanon" and conducted over the course of about a year, was carried out in cooperation with Lebanon's Central Administration of Statistics and the Central Palestinian Statistics apparatus, under the aegis of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue (LPD) Committee.[1] The census was launched following an August 25, 2016 decision by the Lebanese government, and after a Memorandum of Understandings on the matter was signed by the Lebanese and Palestinian Authority (PA) governments on October 19, 2016. In the refugee camps, all residents were counted, not only the Palestinians; elsewhere, only Palestinians were counted.[2]  

It was also reported that the Palestinians were concentrated most (35.8%) in the Sidon area, and after that in the north (25.1%), in Tyre (14.7%), Beirut (13.4%), the Shouf region (7.1%), and the Beqaa Valley (4%). Refugee camp residents were 72% Palestinian, with 65.4% of them long-time residents in Lebanon and 7.4% of them recent arrivals from Syria. Some camps had more non-Palestinians than Palestinians – for example, at the Shatilla camp, 57% of the residents were Syrian refugees, while only 29.7% were Palestinians.[3]

It should be stressed that this is the first census of the Palestinian refugees to be conducted in Lebanon, and that its results revealed fewer Palestinian refugees than previously estimated, and far fewer than the number supplied by UNRWA and the UN. Census project director 'Abd Al-Nasser Al-Ayi told the London-based Saudi Al-Hayat daily that some  Palestinian refugees had migrated from Lebanon over the years, mainly to Germany and to the  "Arab Gulf" countries.[4]


General Census logo: "General Census of Refugee Camp Residents And Palestinian Population Centers In Lebanon – Main Results December 21, 2017"  (Source: Twitter.com/LPDCommittee, accessed February 10, 2018)

Reactions To The Census: Stressing Palestinian Right Of Return, Fear Of Permanent Settlement Of Refugees In Lebanon

The results of the census, which, as stated, revealed fewer Palestinian refugees than previously estimated, sparked diverse reactions in Lebanon among politicians and writers, and general fear that the census was aimed at preparing the ground for permanently settling the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri welcomed the census results, saying that the truth was now revealed about the number of Palestinian refugees in the country, which had been a focus of internal dispute: "This is the real number... Some were talking about 500,000, 600,000, or 400,000 [Palestinian refugees]... A few [among us attempted] fear-mongering [in this matter]. We heard the higher numbers exploited for political  [ends] and for sparring [with rivals], but the LPD Committee set things in the proper place; the government launched the census, and today we have correct results."

He added: "It is our obligation to our Palestinian brothers, who live on our soil, that their issue must be free of disputes... both among the Lebanese and between the Lebanese and the Palestinians... There is no room for ambiguity, nor for any [possibility] of permanently settling [them in Lebanon], nor for any other step that contradicts the [Palestinian] right of return or uproots the Palestinian identity from the Palestinians."[5]

Following the release of the census results, LPD Committee chairman Dr. Hassan Mneimneh called for giving the refugees economic and social rights: "We are convinced that solidarity with Palestine [means] solidarity with the Palestinian individual, [which includes] preserving [both] his dignity and his right of return. Thus, the time has come to give the Palestinians in Lebanon economic and social rights... The LPD Committee will act with all its might to achieve this in the next phase."[6]

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt tweeted his amazement at the decision to conduct a census at this time, expressed fear that there would be a permanent settlement of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and hinted that this was connected to U.S. President Trump's announcement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and to a bigger deal: "Ultimately, they have learned that the number of Palestinians in Lebanon is no greater than 174,000. What is strange, and worrying, in this story is why they conducted a census at this time. Was it in order to end the [entire] affair of the permanent settlement of the refugees [in Lebanon]...  so that the right of return disappears, along with Jerusalem?" [7]

Neemtallah Abi Nasr, head of the Christian Democratic Party, also objected to the census, expressing fear that it was aimed at permanently settling the refugees in Lebanon: "The [census] conducted by the Lebanese Central [Administration of] Statistics arouses fear and questions. The truth about it must be revealed, and this ridiculous business must be stopped, for it harms the right of return and the Lebanese constitution, which bans permanent settlement [of Palestinian refugees]."[8]

Articles by Lebanese writers also reflected the fear that the small number of refugees found by the census would lead to their permanent settlement in the country; others argued that it was possible to give them social and economic rights.

The following are excerpts from two articles presenting these arguments:

Senior Lebanese Journalist: The Census Was Aimed At Permanently Settling The Palestinian Refugees In Lebanon

Ghassan Hajjar, editorial board director at the Lebanese Christian daily Al-Nahar, explained the fear in Lebanon that the census constituted preparation for permanently settling the Palestinians in the country, which, he said, would negatively impact the demographic balance. The census results, he added, had shown a smaller number of refugees than estimated, and this would facilitate the implementation of such a solution. Hajjar hinted at the possibility that the U.S. is behind a plan to permanently settle the Palestinian refugees in the countries where they now reside, including Lebanon, and thus to eradicate the problem of the Palestinian refugees, particularly in light of President Trump's declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. He wrote:

"The numbers are important but what is more important is their exploitation, and the preparation of the ground for dubious, or foreign, projects...

"Since the release of the census [results] showing that only 174,000 Palestinians live on Lebanese soil, there have been reports indicating the disappearance of the 'demon' of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. [Prime Minister] Sa'd Al-Hariri has confirmed this, saying, 'In the past, when discussing the number of Palestinian refugees in the country, we would inflate [these numbers] and give very high numbers'... [and also pointed out that] 'The LPD Committee settled these matters and the Lebanese government launched a census and now we have the results.'

"This is the first census conducted by official Lebanese-Palestinian decision since the [Palestinian] refugees arrived [in Lebanon] 70 years ago... The questions and doubts about this project and its results are necessary and pressing...

"First of all, it is not clear why a Palestinian element, not a Lebanese element, conducted the census. What was the role played by the Lebanese Central [Administration of] Statistics in the census? Was the census conducted only in the [Palestinian] refugee camps?...

"Second, there is the question about why [the census was conducted] at a time when the U.S. is trying to expropriate Jerusalem [for Israel], to eradicate the Palestinian refugee problem, and to persuade the countries in which they live to find permanent solutions for them – that is, permanently settle them, even if they call it something else.

"Third, according to UNRWA [data], the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in early [1948] was 127,600. According to the December 2008 census, they numbered 422,188. A 2015 joint UNRWA-American University in Beirut study found that the number of refugees in Lebanon was between 260,000-280,000. But no one is explaining the lower number. Where did they go? Was their departure documented by General Security at the official border crossings?

"Whether the number [of Palestinian refugees] is actually 174,000, as the census stated, or is much greater, the absolute opposition to permanently settling them [in Lebanon] must not change."[9]


Ghassan Hajjar (Source: Facebook.com/ghassanhajjarlb, January 2, 2018)

Call For Civil Rights For Palestinian Refugees After Census Reveals Their Small Number

In an article in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Lebanese journalist Randa Haidar criticized the Lebanese regime, calling it "hypocritical" for claiming to support Palestine and Jerusalem while at the same time not working for the good of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. She also called on the Lebanese regime to apologize for inflating the refugee numbers in the past and to give them fundamental civil rights. She wrote:

"The State of Lebanon, its governments past and present, and its official institutions must apologize to the Palestinians in Lebanon for the lies they disseminated by inflating the numbers of the refugees [in Lebanon] and for using these [inflated] numbers for fearmongering and for ethnic and racist incitement against them, and as a pretext for stripping them of their fundamental civil rights. Now it has emerged that the number of Palestinians in Lebanon is not 400,000, which the [Lebanese] Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has repeated over and over, but 174,422, according to the census conducted by the LPD Committee and the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon.   

"Since the [1948] Nakba, and since the Palestinians found refuge in Lebanon, the Lebanese governments have been on the alert to thwart the international attempts to settle them permanently in Lebanon – [attempts] that have increased since the 1950s – for two main reasons: One, the obvious reason, is to protect the Palestinian people's right to return to its own land and to thwart the Zionist plan to solve the Palestinian refugee problem by permanently settling them in the countries hosting them. Another reason, which is implied, is the impact that settling the Palestinians, most of whom are Muslims, will have on the delicate demographic balance in this country. This balance forms the basis for the complex formula for the distribution of political authorities according to ethnic group.

"In contrast to other Arab countries, [where the Palestinian refugees] are permanent residents of the country, Lebanon is refraining from giving them civil rights, and has treated them as foreigners belonging to a special sector... Accordingly, the civil rights of the Palestinians in Lebanon can be interpreted in various ways and according to arbitrary and discriminatory laws, for which the Palestinians have paid the price – particularly the residents of the refugee camps, which have become [areas] of poverty and shortage.   

"It is not possible, of course, to ignore the fact that the armed activity of the Palestinian organizations in Lebanon since the early 1970s, the Israeli wars against the Palestinians in Lebanon, and the Palestinians' involvement in the Lebanese civil war that broke out in 1975 have impacted the dispute that divided the Lebanese into [two main groups:] a leftist-Muslim public supporting the Palestinian resistance to Israel based on Lebanese soil, and a right-wing-Christian public that opposes this. This dispute reached its height with the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and in light of the armed Christian militias' collaboration with the invaders.

"These dark, bloody historical eras have left a deep impression on the relationship between the Palestinian refugees and the Lebanese public and state institutions. With the passage of time, the fearmongering about the Palestinian presence and about the [possibility] that they will be settled permanently became an axe to be used for political purposes connected to elections, and for disseminating a policy of racism against all non-Lebanese.

"It is not only the Palestinian public in Lebanon that has paid the price of this fearmongering vis-à-vis permanently settling the Palestinians. Lebanese [women] married to foreigners have paid a high price, in that their children are not given Lebanese citizenship, on the claim of fear of permanent settlement of the Palestinians. Although no more than 3,000 Lebanese are married to Palestinians, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil sees this as a danger to Lebanon... Does giving citizenship to the children of three thousand Lebanese married to Palestinians constitute an existential danger for Lebanon?

"Although the law prevents a third generation of Palestinians born in Lebanon from engaging in the free professions, such as engineering and medicine, and also gives them no property rights – not to mention a series of complications connected to... renewing residence and work [permits], and despite the fact that they constitute a tiny part of the total population of Lebanon – despite all this, political elements continue to support not giving them their rights, in order to make things more difficult for them.

"The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon need their civil rights more than they need the fiery speeches of support for Palestine and Jerusalem given by Lebanese officials in Arab and International circles. Today, Lebanon's hypocrisy vis-à-vis  the Palestinians on Lebanese soil and towards the Palestinian issue is no longer acceptable, particularly not after the recent release of their [actual] numbers there and the refutation of the exaggerations that there have been in matters connected to them. The publication of the real number of Palestinians in Lebanon must be a real turning point in the official establishment's treatment of the Palestinian refugees, and they should be given civil rights forthwith, as promised by the Lebanese prime minister. "[10]


Randa Haidar (Source: madardaily.com)

 

[1] Lpdc.gov.lb, December 21, 2017.

[2] Al-Hayat (London), February 3, 2017; http://www.lpdc.gov.lb.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), December 21 and 22, 2017.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), December 21, 2017.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), December 22, 2017.

[6] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), December 22, 2017.

[7] Twitter.com/walidjoumblatt, December 22, 2017.

[8] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 3, 2018.

[9] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 23, 2017.

[10] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), December 24, 2017.