Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

10 July 1997



(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 10 July (UN Information Service) -- Over 350,000 Palestine refugees in Lebanon are on the brink of despair as they are forced to cope with a growing social and economic crisis which can only be averted by the quick action of the international community. Launching the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East's (UNRWA) Special Emergency Appeal for Assistance to Palestine Refugees in Lebanon at a press conference today, 10 July, in Geneva, UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen called for $11 million in additional contributions from the international community for 1997-1998 to meet the need.

"We are launching an appeal at this time because thousands of Palestine refugees in Lebanon desperately need help. Over the years, UNRWA has been a lifeline, but rising needs among the refugees, combined with the Agency's severe financial constraints, are a recipe for frustration and misery. At this critical juncture in the peace process, it is important to demonstrate to the Palestine refugees in Lebanon that their status is not at risk and that the international community, through its support to UNRWA, has not abandoned them", Mr. Hansen said.

Stressing the urgency of the appeal for special funds and the need for prompt action by the international community, Mr. Hansen said that UNRWA was virtually the sole provider of health, education and relief and social services to the 356,000 Palestine refugees registered with the Agency in Lebanon. At the same time, the socio-economic conditions of the Palestine refugee population have worsened despite the relative stability in Lebanon in recent years. At least 40 per cent of Palestine refugees in Lebanon are unemployed since they face restrictions in the local job market. Unlike their compatriots in Jordan or Syria, they have no access to public health facilities, including hospitalization services. Palestine refugees have practically no access to public schools at all levels as priority is given to Lebanese citizens. Remittances from family members working in Gulf countries were drastically reduced after the Gulf war.

"A volatile situation has developed in Lebanon in recent months, with campaigns being organized to protest the Agency's perceived inability to meet the refugees' basic needs", Mr. Hansen said. "Additional funds are crucial to help ease the socio-economic crisis facing Palestine refugees living in Lebanon and to cover basic needs arising from their particular circumstances, such as health services, in particular hospitalization, housing and education."

The difficulty of mobilizing sufficient contributions for the Agency's General Fund has made it increasingly difficult for UNRWA to maintain adequate services for the Palestine refugees in Lebanon. Over 10 per cent of refugees in Lebanon are enrolled in the Agency's special hardship programme, the highest proportion in the Agency's five fields of operations (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip). In addition, there are an estimated 15-20,000 non-registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon who are not entitled to UNRWA services, but who nevertheless are in urgent need of assistance.

The Commissioner-General said that the health needs of the refugee community in Lebanon were especially acute in the absence of public facilities accessible to Palestinian due to their refugee status. The Agency's austerity measures have affected payments for hospital care. Mr. Hansen appealed for $6.9 million to hold the line on the Agency's health services, including funds to maintain the current level and volume of hospitalization services, to reduce the financial burden on the poorest refugees and to ensure timely admission to hospital for emergency and lifesaving cases.

Since Palestine refugees rely almost entirely on UNRWA educational facilities and tuition fees at private schools are very high, the Agency also appealed for $2.7 million to respond to urgent needs in the education sector.

Many refugee families who live at or below the poverty line do not meet the restricted criteria of UNRWA's special hardship assistance programme. The Agency appealed for $1.4 million to assist Palestine refugees in Lebanon who suffer the greatest socio-economic disadvantage. Funding is required to provide assistance to these refugees who, without support, would find it difficult to survive.

The Commissioner-General told journalists that now was the time to reinforce UNRWA's role by ensuring sufficient funding for its core services within its General Fund. "This will enable the Agency to fulfill its obligations, to improve the living conditions of the refugees, to prepare them for the challenges ahead and to reinforce UNRWA's role as a stabilizing factor in the region", he said.

Earlier today in Geneva, Mr. Hansen met the High Level Working Group, which included ambassadors accredited to the United Nations in Geneva, to outline the details of the appeal and to request the support of their governments.

The full text of the appeal, including the details of the specific contributions requested to assist Palestine refugees in Lebanon, are available from UNRWA.

For more information contact UNRWA Public Information Office, UNRWA HQ (Gaza), P.O. Box 371, Gaza City, tel. (+972 7) 677 7333, 677 7526; fax (+972 7) 677 7555, 677 7697.

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