Palestinians in Lebanon say coronavirus help is too little, too late

Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp, one of the camps housing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp, one of the camps housing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon Al Jazeera English

27 May 2020

Of the 470,000 Palestinians in Lebanon registered with UNRWA, many already lived in poverty before the countrywide restrictions made matters worse

The United Nations Relief and Works agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) provides services to Palestinian refugees based in twelve camps across the country, pending a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Conditions in the camps are dire, with most sites characterized by overcrowding, inadequate housing, high unemployment and poor access to healthcare.

But the UNRWA has recently been under fire for doing too little too late in terms of unblocking resources for food and monetary aid to help Palestinian refugees in Lebanon get through an economic crisis and COVID-19 lockdown. It took months into the lockdown for the agency to finally announce a cash aid operation and the opening of a medical isolation centre for COVID-19 testing and treatment for Palestinian patients.

The initial delay was reportedly due to a lack of funding and to the closure of financial institutions during lockdown, but the aid distribution is still presenting huge challenges. Refugees have been unable to collect their cash handouts of 112,000 Lebanese lira (around $35), with many of them leaving self-isolation to stand in long queues outside money transfer offices for several hours every day, only to return home empty-handed.

The UNRWA has acknowledged its failings and expressed “deep regret” for the delays. Aside from local civil society groups, which worked extremely hard to distribute food boxes and medical supplies, the agency is the only entity responsible for Palestinian refugees and has renewed its ongoing commitment to keep supporting Palestinians as much as possible within the limits of its resources. But as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prolongs, the number of refugees to support will grow, along with the necessity for more funding.


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Author: Giulia Ferrara

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