By Simona Sikimic
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
BEIRUT: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are two times more likely to live in poverty than other Lebanese people, preliminary report findings released Tuesday have shown.
The “Socio-Economic Survey of Palestine Refugees in Lebanon” is the first comprehensive evaluation of its kind. It assesses the demographics of the Palestinian population as well as their access to the labor market and various health, education and housing needs.
The full findings of the European Union (EU)-funded survey are not expected until the end of the month, but the initial results paint a rather bleak picture for the 260,000 – 280,000 Palestinian refugees the report found to be living in the country.
This is a significantly smaller figure than the 425,000 UN registered refugees, many of whom are thought to have emigrated in search of work.
“Anyone who has visited one of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon knows that poverty is widespread there and the living conditions are simply unacceptable for a middle-income country,” said EU operation section head Diege Escalona Paturel. “Until today no reliable data on the socio-economic situation and poverty levels in the camps existed and thus all programs and campaigns have been based on estimates and guesses in the best case, propaganda in the worst.”
The survey, conducted by researchers at the American University Beirut (AUB) in coordination with United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) statisticians, found jobless rates among Palestinians to be 56 percent, with only 38 percent of the working population – 53,000 out of 120,000 refugees – considered to be in stable employment.
This is roughly on par with previous findings from Palestinian right-to-work groups but well above figures publicly touted by UNRWA earlier this year, which claimed unemployment ranged from 13 to 21 percent.
“The findings are not that surprising but what has surprised us is seeing all the data together like this for the first time,” director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, Salvatore Lombardo told The Daily Star. “We have known many of the figures but they have been scattered.”
According to the survey, two thirds of those in employment were engaged in elementary occupation, such as agriculture and construction. Due to low wages in these industries, even those in work find it difficult to lift themselves out of poverty and 66.4 percent of Palestinians live on less than $6 a day or $182.6 a month, dropping to around $700 a month for the average family of 4.5 people, the report said.
This contrasts to 35 percent of Lebanese who live below this UN-designated line.
An additional 1.7 percent of Lebanese live in “extreme poverty” on less than $2.17 a day or $66 a month, but this number increases almost five-fold for Palestinians and is especially high in the south, where more than 81 percent of all extremely poor refugees reside.
Low income standards have had a knock-on effect on housing, two thirds of which was recorded to be damp or leaking, and endangering human psychological and physical health.
High school drop-out rates were particularly singled out for blame by the survey, which notes that only half of youth above the age of 16 are enrolled in education or vocational training, with up to 80 percent of males dropping out early.
A mere 6 percent of Palestinians go on to attend university, in contrast to 20 percent of Lebanese, the report said.
A large amount of blame is being placed on the perceived lack of opportunities, limited by state restrictions requiring Palestinians to obtain work permits and which, in spite of recent relaxations, still exclude Palestinians from certain professions, such as medicine.
“The Lebanese state should change its stance on the issue [of Palestinian working rights],” said AUB assistant professor and head survey researcher Jad Chaaban. “Only 6 percent of the unemployed refugees have university training, so if refugees were allowed to work formally there will be about 5,000 to 6,000 refugees who would join the labor force,” said Chaaban. “[This is] a very small number compared to the one million Lebanese labor force.”
Once complete, the findings are expected to shape future UNRWA and state development plans for Palestinians.