Refugees march for Lebanon rights

Thousands of Palestinians rally in Lebanese capital seeking basic human rights.

    Thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon have marched in Beirut to protest against the lack of basic rights.

    The protesters gathered at a sports stadium in the Lebanese capital on Sunday before marching to the UN headquarters in downtown Beirut.

    "As Palestinians in Lebanon we have no rights. We just want to live with dignity," Imtithal Abu Samra, 29, a Palestinian who lives in the Beddawi refugee camp in northern Lebanon, said.

    Around 400,000 Palestinian refugees, or 10 per cent of the country's population, live in miserable conditions across Lebanon due to many factors, such as scarce financial resources.

    Shunned by many employers, not allowed to own property and facing discrimination, Palestinian refugees are reduced to a miserable existence in overcrowded and unsanitary camps.

    Unequal rights

    Palestinians in Lebanon are barred from working in dozens of professions and employers who do end up hiring them generally pay them wages lower than their Lebanese counterparts. 

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    They are not allowed to benefit from public, social or medical services and face restrictions in Lebanese universities and schools.

    Proposals for a draft law due to be debated in parliament in a few weeks would give Palestinians the right to own a residential apartment and would legalise work rights such as medical care in case of work-related accidents and end of service pay.

    Salvatore Lombardo, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), in Lebanon, said the proposed law to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon basic civil rights will promote their sense of dignity and well-being in refugee camps across the country.

    However, the proposals have faced hurdles in parliament because of Christian legislators' fears that granting Palestinians rights would eventually lead to their naturalisation.

    The issue is a sensitive topic in Lebanon, where politicians are wary about upsetting a delicate sectarian balance. Palestinians are mostly Sunni Muslims.

    Scattered camps

    Palestinian fighters have been blamed for attacks on UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, firing rockets from Lebanon into Israel - most recently during the Gaza offensive - and forming al-Qaeda-inspired cells in refugee camps.

    Approximately 425,000 Palestinians are registered as refugees in Lebanon by Unrwa, which provides them services.

    Many of them live in 12 camps scattered across the country in conditions Lombardo described as deplorable and appalling.

    They are descendants of families that fled or were forced to flee during fighting in 1948 that led to the creation of Israel.

    Palestinians have long been marginalised in Lebanon, where the 1975-90 civil war was sparked by a conflict between Palestinian and Lebanese Christian factions.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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