By Simona Sikimic
BEIRUT: U.N. service provision to the 17,000 estimated nonregistered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has improved in recent years but too many of the “most vulnerable of the already vulnerable” continue to suffer from poor and patchy service provision, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Danish Refugee Council study, “Incomplete Entitlement,” reveals that despite 80 percent of non-registered refugees reporting access to at least one U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) service, the average adult lives on $2.7 a day.
This is “dangerously close” to the $2.17 threshold designated by UNRWA in 2010 as the “extreme poverty line” in Lebanon, under which level refugees find it very difficult to fulfill their daily nutritional and other basic needs.
“The vulnerability of [the nonregistered] is part of the general vulnerability of the Palestinian refugee population,” said report author, Aziza Khalidi. “As a matter of principle, all Palestinian refugees are entitled to an equal treatment to access to services provided by UNRWA.”
Nonregistered refugees largely comprise of Palestinians – and their descendants – who arrived in Lebanon during, or after, the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and were excluded from the 1952 U.N. census. However, the grouping also encompasses those who arrived in 1948 but did not register, either because of momentary absence or perceived affluence at the time, which led many to refuse UNRWA “handouts.”
For decades nonregistered refugees were denied basic services, with many “reporting not having access to education for as long as 10 years and access … to UNRWA medical services and clinics.” Vocational training was also restricted until 2010, the report said.
However, major revisions in UNRWA policy have since eased restrictions and introduced measures like family registration, which allows non-registered refugees to obtain recognition through marriage.
The group is separate from the 3,000 estimated non-ID Palestinians who lack any official papers and are privy to only the most basic of provisions. However, the report advances fusing the two groups to improve advocacy and service provision to all by enacting reforms similar to those undertaken in Gaza and the West Bank, where coverage holes have been gradually eradicated.
It also proposes enacting simple bureaucratic reforms, which could make a big impact on the everyday lives of nonregistered refugees.
While, “there is a major improvement in the quality of the travel documentation issued to NRs [nonregistereds]” the issuance of documents for a maximum of 12 months, continues to be a major hurdle, the report said.
Despite seeming like a small grievance, the cost of renewing passports and the difficulty in receiving visas to work or study abroad – which require passports with a longer validity – was a major complaint of report interviewees.
Another key concern is health care. In the best case scenario UNRWA offers primary and secondary level treatment but very rarely funds long-term hospitalization.
This is a major burden to the majority of nonregistered families, 60 percent of whom report living with at least one family member afflicted with chronic illness, the report said.