What Are Palestinian Refugee Camp Conditions Like?

There are 58 official Palestinian refugee camps. They are located in Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria and Lebanon. Many of the camps were created in 1948 as a result of the first Arab-Israeli war. Other camps were added after the wars in 1967 and 1973 and more recently after the war in Syria for Syrian Palestinians. About 1.5 million Palestinian refugees live in the official camps.

Palestinian refugees do not have many of the same rights that other refugees have under the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). That’s because Palestinian refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

Living Conditions in Palestinian Refugee Camps

The housing conditions in Palestinian refugee camps are abysmal. Conditions are overcrowded, and the camps frequently lack basic infrastructures such as roads or sanitation. The camps can go months without electricity and, when it is available, it is inconsistent.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are not allowed to repair or build property, even within camps. If their homes are damaged in any way or if facilities like schools need repairs, it is illegal to fix them.

Lack of Access to Medicine in Palestinian Refugee Camps

Palestinian refugees face many health challenges because of the conditions caused by overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure, limited access to medicines and medications, lack of proper nutrition and poor hygiene accelerated by incidents such as the winter rains which bring sewage into people’s houses.

Malnutrition is an issue in all Palestinian refugee camps, especially in Gaza.

Gaza regularly faces serious deficiencies of medical supplies and medicines. Many times, medical disposables and essential medicines have less than a month supply.

International organizations and UNRWA provide some health care to all Palestinian refugee camps, regardless of where they are located. Many Palestinian refugees, however, must often seek expensive health care that is not provided by aid organizations. If more than one child is sick, Palestinian refugee families may need to decide which one will get treatment.

Lack of Adequate Education for Palestinian Refugees

Palestinian refugees lack access to an adequate education. UNRWA provides educational resources for half a million children in the various Palestinian refugee camps, and international aid organizations offer additional resources. These resources, however, are too limited and do not always provide Palestinian youth with the skills that they will need to get jobs in the future.

The situation was made worse when the United States cut $300 million from UNRWA’s budget in 2018. The reduction had an immediate impact on schools in the Palestinian refugee camps.

In Gaza, schools are always overcrowded. More than two-thirds of Gaza schools run by both UNRWA and the Ministry of Education run on double shifts. This reduces the amount of time students can spend on core subjects and foundation learning. There is not enough time to reinforce what the students are learning, support students with learning disabilities or offer extracurricular activities.

Another impediment to education both in Gaza and Lebanon is the continuing electrical outages. Electricity may be unavailable for months or restricted to only a few hours. Blackouts affect students’ ability to concentrate on their studies.

For Palestinian refugees, the dropout rate is a staggering 18%. Children who do graduate from secondary school do not usually seek higher education. Many Palestinians fail the exams necessary to qualify for secondary education.

Palestinians who live in Gaza and the West Bank have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, 96.3%, according to the United Nations Development Program. In Palestine, education suffers from crumbling infrastructure, a lack of trainer teachers, and access to schools.

Palestinian Refugees Experience Staggering Rates of Joblessness

The unemployment rate among Palestinian refugees is staggering. In Lebanon, 56 percent of Palestinian refugees are unemployed. Most Palestinian refugees live on the equivalent of $6 a day. About 50 percent of the population only have minimal skills needed for a job. Another 10 percent have never attended school.

The situation is particularly bad for Palestinian refugees who have come from Syria. Palestinians from Syria drive up the unemployment rate among Palestinian refugees overall. While many of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been living there for decades, Syrian refugees may have only been in the country for five or six years at most.

Around 38 percent of working-age Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are employed. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are treated as foreign workers, even if they were born in Lebanon. They need expensive permits to work. They do not receive health care benefits through their jobs. Palestinian refugees cannot establish their own businesses outside the refugee camps and cannot work in any occupation that has a union, like driving a taxi.

Syrian refugees, desperate to support their families, will often work for minimum wage or less “under the table.”

It is difficult for Palestinian refugees to find work other than menial laborfor very poor wages in areas such as sanitation, agriculture, construction, textiles and carpets, car washing and electricity. Palestinian refugee women find work as nannies, nurses or servants.

Source: What Are Palestinian Refugee Camp Conditions Like?
© Anera, 2023

Back to top