MAP highlights plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty

On Saturday 9 October, Lebanon’s power grid shut down for 24 hours due to fuel shortages at two of the country’s biggest power stations. The blackout reflects a deepening economic crisis in Lebanon, described as one of the world’s most severe since the mid- nineteenth century, characterised by rampant inflation, price rises, and unprecedented depreciation of the local currency. Basic necessities – including food and medicine – have become increasingly expensive and hard to find, pushing Lebanon’s most impoverished communities further into deprivation. Fuel shortages have caused most hospitals to operate at just 50% capacity, while water supply systems are on the verge of collapse. 

Last week, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) responded to a call for submissions by UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, ahead of his visit to Lebanon in November. In our submission, which you can read here, MAP outlined the impact of the layered economic and COVID-19 crises on the health and wellbeing of Palestinian refugees in the country.  

MAP’s submission describes how discrimination and marginalisation in Lebanon have compounded the protracted economic and humanitarian crises affecting Palestinian refugees exiled from their homes for more than 70 years. As documented in our 2018 report Health in Exile: Barriers to the health and dignity of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Palestinian refugees today remain classified as “foreigners” by the government and are denied many of the rights afforded to Lebanese nationals, including the right to work in many professions, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, economic shocks, and the COVID-19 crisis. Even before the current crisis, the poverty rate among Palestinian refugees stood at 65%, more than double the poverty rate among Lebanese. 

A World Food Programme study in 2020 found that 44% of Palestinians in Lebanon are unable to stockpile food during the COVID-19 pandemic due to affordability and two thirds worry about not having enough food to eat. The same study found that one in five Palestinian refugees have exhausted their capacity to cope with the income gap, for example spending their savings, borrowing from friends or family, or borrowing on credit. 

The current economic instability has had a particularly worrying impact on the availability of vital healthcare materials and services, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that “all sectors including health, are at risk of collapse.” The shortage of medicines and inaccessibility of healthcare is further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2021 Inas*, a resident of the Ein el Helweh refugee camp, told MAP: 

“When we go to a hospital for any problem, they won’t receive us without a negative PCR [COVID-19] test, which costs 75,000 to 180,000 Lebanese Pounds [£35 to £85 GBP]. We don’t have this money, so we decide not to go the hospital even for essential matters.” 

In the submission, MAP highlights how these issues have disproportionately affected people with disabilities; pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants; and young Palestinian refugees. MAP has invited the Special Rapporteur to visit affected Palestinian refugee communities on his visit. 

Read MAP’s submission in full here.

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