A considerable number of refugees used to receive assistance from the Palestinian Authority, but that has stopped after an international embargo was imposed on the Hamas-led Palestinian government since the Islamist group won elections in January.
Around 400,000 Palestinians are registered with the UN as refugees in Lebanon, the majority of them housed in 12 camps.
Kassem Ahmed, a Fatah militia officer living at the Ayn el-Helweh camp, had been receiving a monthly salary from the PLO for years, but since March has received nothing.
He relies on the salary because the Lebanese government bans Palestinian refugees from seeking employment and from obtaining work permits and rights to land ownership.
Some of the restrictions were lifted last year with Lebanese-born Palestinians now able to apply for a small number of private sector jobs such as bank clerks, but many camp residents are still unemployed and living in extreme poverty and squalour.
“We are not allowed to work in Lebanon. I have been working with Fatah for the last 13 years … serving my people … and I know no other profession. And now there is no money at home,” Ahmed says.
Hamas blames PLO
However, Hamas claims that responsibility for the payment of the funds to refugees in Lebanon is down to the PLO and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
“This year a lot of people cannot send their children to schools, buy books nor pay for transportation”
Colonel Munir Makdah, Fatah
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon told Aljazeera: “The responsibility in Beirut is related to the Palestine National Fund which is part of the PLO – and the head of the fund is a member of the executive committee – it is supposed to send money to people here.”
Hamdan accuses Fatah and Abbas of foul play.
“Abu Mazen sent from the salaries of Palestinian employees $2.4 million at the beginning of August,” he says. “But until now they said they didn’t receive the money – so where is the money?”
Fatah, for their part, blames the embargo for the lack of funds.
“For sure there have been negative consequences [as a result of the embargo],” says Colonel Munir Makdah, head of the Fatah militia in Lebanon.
“This year a lot of people cannot send their children to schools, buy books nor pay for transportation.”
The divisions between the various Palestinian factions that have failed to form a national unity government are also evident in the Lebanese camps.
Rival factions have clashed
Fatah is traditionally the most dominant group, but other factions like Hamas have made gains.
The situation was better for refugees during the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990 when they were under the authority of the PLO which along with the UN Relief and Works Agency provided jobs and money.
Khaled Aref, a Fatah official in Lebanon said: “Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat] used to give special attention to the refugee camps in Lebanon – he used to send money for health, education services and to build infrastructure – he also sent salaries – he used to spend all this money because of the socio-economic conditions in Lebanon.”
But those conditions have changed and Lebanese policies limit access to public health or educational services.
With no immediate hope of repatriation, the suffering of Palestinian refugees looks set to worsen through a combination of the international embargo and the lack of agreement among their own leaders.