How overlapping crises are affecting young Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

Amid an economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, young Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon have been disproportionately affected. Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) met with a group of young people from Burj el Barajneh and Mar Elias refugee camps, who volunteer in a MAP-supported peer education project run in partnership with Beit Atfal Assomoud. They spoke to us about the struggles young Palestinians in Lebanon are experiencing and how recent Israeli military violence across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) has impacted them.

“Many people lost their jobs and stopped going out and doing activities, due to both COVID-19 and to avoid spending the little money they have,” said Rola*, a Palestinian refugee who lives in Mar Elias camp in Lebanon’s capital Beirut. “Staying home causes you to stress out. Young boys and girls are now spending their days on social media which is not the same as hanging out with friends or in-person interactions.”

Rola graduated from college two years ago and is still unable to find work. Being a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, she is among the most vulnerable groups in the country. They are marginalised, discriminated against, and deprived of civil and social rights including the right to work in many professions and the right to own property.

Before the severe economic and financial crisis that hit Lebanon, two-thirds of Palestinian refugees lived below the poverty line. Now, with poverty rates doubling in Lebanon, and in the absence of a national protection scheme for the most vulnerable groups, these refugees are left exposed and struggling to survive.

The crises in Lebanon are affecting the psychological wellbeing of many of the young Palestinian peer-educators who are involved in the project. According to them, a large proportion of families have lost their jobs and livelihoods because of the economic crisis and are left struggling without any source of income. Many children were no longer getting pocket money to buy things they need or enjoy. Even when parents continued to get paid the same amount, significant price increases in the country are leaving many basic items unaffordable. “Prices have increased by around five times,” said 17-year-old Ahmad, from Mar Elias camp. “Buying new clothes or even buying essential items for school such as notebooks or pens have become a luxury.”

Young Palestinian refugees participating in a focus group as part of a MAP-supported peer education project.

Lebanon’s desperate economic situation has exposed young Palestinians to many risks, including dropping out of school or university, becoming part of criminal gangs, or joining armed groups who are luring youths with tens of dollars. Mohamad, who used to work in the afternoon and on weekends to secure his university tuition fees, is not able to find work anymore to pay for his education because of the economic crisis. Many children have also moved from private schools to the overcrowded public schools, according to 17-year-old Sara. Sara expects the level and the quality of education in Lebanon to drop in the coming years.

Online learning is a matter that most of the young people in the group complained about. Shadi, a bright 15-year-old Palestinian refugee displaced from Syria, shared his struggles: “Online learning has caused us too much stress. How are we expected to study online when we do not have electricity or internet! It is not possible to grasp everything, and it is not possible to build relationships with our classmates and teachers to facilitate asking for help when needed. We have been struggling throughout the year and now they want us to sit for official exams!”

“It is nothing compared to what youth in Palestine are going through”

During the 11-day Israeli military offensive on Gaza and before the ceasefire took effect, demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians were organised in different areas across Lebanon, including the country’s southern border and the Palestinian refugee camps.

The refugee camps were first established as temporary shelters to host Palestinians who fled their homeland following the Nakba (or catastrophe) in 1948 and sought safety in Lebanon. Today, 73 years later, these camps – despite their deteriorating infrastructure and cramped housing – continue to host half of the estimated 250,000 Palestinian refugees who currently reside in Lebanon.

Inside Mar Elias refugee camp.

The group believes that although everyone in Lebanon was affected by the economic crisis, Palestinians were hardest hit because they do not enjoy the same rights as Lebanese citizens and are discriminated against. This situation has affected the hopes and aspirations of young Palestinians.

“Youth are not thinking of the future anymore, they think of the next day only. Before, we used to think about things that we want to do when we graduate, but now we don’t because we know that we will not find work, and if we did, the salary will not be enough for transportation alone,” Shadi explained. 

Rola disagreed and said that they should never lose hope as things will be better for Palestinians everywhere one day. The difficulties Palestinians are currently facing in Lebanon made Rola further appreciate the strength and bravery of young people in the oPt. “Young Palestinians in Lebanon are living in very difficult conditions, but it is nothing compared to what youth in Palestine are going through. If an economic crisis has had such a devastating impact on us, I can only imagine how bad the impact of living in war and occupation with a constant risk of death have been on youth there,” she said.

The group also spoke about feeling angry to see their homeland under attack, while they are away and are unable to be there. Nonetheless, they all felt empowered to see people around the world finally become aware of the injustices Palestinians have been enduring for decades. “Social media helped people see the truth, the reality of what is going on. I kept on sharing posts so everyone could see what Israelis have been doing to Palestinians,” Ahmad explained. He was also happy to see Lebanese people participating in the demonstrations that were held across Lebanon in solidarity with Palestinians.

Despite the difficulties these young Palestinian refugees are facing, they are aware of their responsibilities and the role they can play through the peer education project to support other young Palestinians and continue to improve their awareness, skills, health, and wellbeing.

You can support this project and MAP’s ongoing support for young Palestinian refugees by making a donation today.

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*Names have been changed to protect the identity of people interviewed.

Photo: A Palestinian refugee in Mar Elias refugee camp.

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