"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
Background: The Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon
The Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon is one of the world’s most longstanding refugee populations and Palestinian refugees now account for approximately one tenth of Lebanon’s total population. They remain, however, a highly deprived community, notwithstanding recommendations made by the Committee and other United Nations bodies with a view to alleviating their situation and ensuring their greater enjoyment of their human rights. The discrimination to which Palestinian refugees are subject to in Lebanon impacts particularly on Palestinian children, whose ability to access basic human rights, such as the right to education, is impeded through the existence of such restrictions.
According to a 2004 report of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), "Palestine refugees in Lebanon are among the most disadvantaged. They have only limited access to government services and have to depend almost entirely on the Agency for basic education, health and relief and social services… Palestine refugees in Lebanon suffer from poor living and housing conditions and high rates of unemployment. New legislation aims at preventing refugees from buying immovable property and depriving them of their inheritance rights."(3)
There are three categories of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon: refugees registered with UNRWA (hereafter registered refugees), who are also registered with the Lebanese authorities; refugees who are registered with the Lebanese authorities but not registered with UNRWA (hereafter non-registered refugees); and refugees who are not registered with either UNRWA or the Lebanese authorities, who are commonly referred to as non-ID refugees. Non-ID refugees do not possess valid identification documents; this has serious, negative implications for their enjoyment of human rights in Lebanon.
According to UNWRA, the official number of registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is 400, 582;(4) 30.1% of registered refugees were under the age of 16 as of June 2000.(5) However, precise numbers are less certain because some registered Palestinian refugees have left Lebanon since obtaining registration and are now resident in other countries. The last official census in Lebanon took place in 1932 and there has never been a census aimed at the Palestinian refugee population. In addition to the registered refugees, there are an estimated 10,000(6) to 40,000(7) non-registered Palestinian refugees and a further 3,000-5,000(8) non-ID Palestinian refugees. This latter group face even more severe restrictions on the exercise of their human rights than the registered and non-registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In particular, they face additional obstacles in accessing education, in the exercise of their freedom of movement, and in registering marriages, which are all dependent on possessing recognized registration or identification documents. Many of these refugees have lived in Lebanon for decades and many are married to registered Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon has 12 Palestinian refugee camps serviced by UNRWA with a registered refugee population of 210,952 living in these camps;(9) these are often referred to as ‘official camps’ (hereafter camps). In these camps, UNRWA offers services ranging from the maintenance and development of basic infrastructure to schools, clinics, and property registration. In addition to the camps, there are dozens of informal gatherings (hereafter gatherings), which are sometimes referred to as ‘unofficial camps’; these are spread throughout Lebanon. Some comprise hundreds and others accommodate thousands of refugees. UNRWA does not provide services for the gatherings but registered Palestinian refugees who reside within them are permitted access to UNRWA assistance and services in other locations.
Article 2: Non-Discrimination
Amnesty International is concerned that the differential treatment afforded to Palestinian refugees and their children, as reported in this briefing, violates Lebanon’s obligations under Article 2.1 and 2.2 of the CRC. Lebanon currently fails to extend the same protection to "each child within their jurisdiction" (Article 2.1), distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens and discriminating in particular against the stateless. Amnesty International also believes that Lebanon is in violation of the prohibition on discrimination on the basis of, inter alia, "the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s …national…origin… birth or other status" (Article 2.1), as well as the duty to ensure that children are protected against all forms of discrimination on the basis of the status of their parents or guardians (Article 2.2).
As this briefing shows, the rights of Palestinian refugee children are at risk in all cases where their parents’ status is that of registered, non-registered or non-ID refugee, and also due to their statelessness.
Article 27: Right to an Adequate Standard of Living
Article 27 of the Convention states that States Parties shall "recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development… [and] shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing." Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) describes the right to an adequate standard of living as including "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions."
Amnesty International notes the opinion of the Committee, expressed in its Concluding Observations to Lebanon’s second periodic report at its 29th session in 2002:
The Committee is concerned that the overall standard of living of many children is very low, as measured by income-related indicators such as access to housing, water, sanitation and education. In particular, it expresses concern at the large regional disparities in living standards, particularly with regard to children living in the governorates of the north, Nabatiyah and Bekaa, and Palestinian children.
The Committee is concerned about the high rate of Palestinian children living below the poverty line, as well as the lack of adequate access by Palestinian children to many basic rights, including health, education and an adequate standard of living, and about the quality of services provided.(10)
Underlying factors impeding the exercise of the right to an adequate standard of living for children of Palestinian refugees include regulations and restrictions which discriminate against Palestinian refugees in access to employment, which Amnesty International considers a violation of Lebanon’s obligations under the ICESCR and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).(11) This view was echoed by CERD in considering Lebanon’s Sixteenth Periodic report, when it stated, "While acknowledging the political factors related to the presence of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the Committee reiterates its concern with regard to the enjoyment by the Palestinian population present in the country of all rights stipulated in the Convention on the basis of non-discrimination, in particular access to work, health care, housing and social services as well as the right to effective legal remedies."(12)
The Right to Adequate Housing
The land area allocated to and occupied by the 12 Palestinian official refugee camps in Lebanon has remained mostly unchanged since 1948 despite the growth in the number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon from an estimated 100,000(13) in 1949 to over 400,000(14) at the present time. Often, refugee families have felt the need to build additional rooms and, in many cases, additional stories to their places of dwelling in order to accommodate increasing numbers. Some households visited by Amnesty International in 2005 had families of up to ten people sharing a single room.
The living conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps noted by Amnesty International fall short of fulfilling the substantive requirements of the right to adequate housing. This is most clearly reflected in gatherings which suffer from poor infrastructure and almost no services or facilities and do not provide legal security of tenure. In terms of habitability, dwellings in refugee camps and informal gatherings fail in many cases to provide the inhabitants "with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, [and] structural hazards."(15) The infrastructure and facilities in the camps are often insufficient or in need of substantial improvement. UNRWA’s description of the state of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon is indicative of the situation:
Today, all 12 official refugee camps in the Lebanon Field suffer from serious problems - no proper infrastructure, overcrowding, poverty and unemployment. The Lebanon Field has the highest percentage of Palestine refugees who are living in abject poverty and who are registered with the Agency's "special hardship" programme.(16)
Violations of the Duty to Respect the Right to Adequate Housing
An important element of all economic, social and cultural rights is self-help, and the obligation on the state to respect these rights and refrain from impeding measures taken by individuals to realise their rights. The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), states that the right to housing should not be interpreted as "merely having a roof over one's head… rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity."(17)