Lebanon Census Finds Number of Palestinian Refugees Only a Third of Official UN Data

A census in Lebanon finds 175,000 Palestinian refugees living in the country, while the UN figure put their number at 500,000

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian woman painted on her face a Palestinian flag during a march in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, against U S. President Donald Trump's decisions to recognize Jerusalem at the capital of Israel in Beirut.
A Palestinian woman painted on her face a Palestinian flag during a march in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017Credit: (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Around 175,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, 45 percent of them in 12 refugee camps and 55 percent in 156 population centers throughout the country, according to a census conducted by Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics in partnership with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

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The total is much lower than the official figure of 500,000, cited by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. It has been known for years that the UN figure was inaccurate, since many Palestinian refugees have emigrated from Lebanon. But the census finding was also below other estimates, such as that of the American University of Beirut in 2015, which put the figure at between 260,000 and 280,000.

The census was approved by Lebanon’s government in August 2015, and in October 2015 a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Palestinian Authority. The preliminary results were announced Thursday at a press conference in Beirut. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told the audience that Lebanon cannot only look on from the sidelines at the harsh living conditions of the Palestinian refugees.

The census was carried out over a period of one year, ending in September, by around 1,000 Lebanese and Palestinian census-takers.

FILE PHOTO: A Lebanese girl poses for a picture with the Palestinian flag Credit: AFP PHOTO / Ali DIA

Around 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from Israel during the 1948 war and were not allowed to return. Around 100,000 went to Lebanon. Despite minor changes to legislation, Lebanon continues to restrict Palestinians’ right to work, prohibits them from owning property and withholds basic government services such as health care and education.

According to the census, there were 174,422 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon this year. However, in a media statement the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics noted that 5.7 percent of the census subject refused to answer census-takers’ questions or did not complete the questionnaires.

The census revealed that in some refugee camps, non-Palestinians outnumbered Palestinians. For example, in Chatila, 57.7 percent of residents were displaced Syrians and only 29.7 percent were Palestinians. There were more Syrians than Palestinians in the Burj el Brajneh and Mar Elias camps as well.

Palestinians accounted for 72.8 percent of the population in the 12 refugee camps. Three-quarters are permanent residents in Lebanon, about 7.5 percent are displaced Palestinians from Syria and about 5 percent are Palestinian refugees from other places.

The census also found that 7.2 percent of the Palestinians were illiterate.

The overall unemployment rate among the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon was 18.4 percent. The rate for refugees aged 15 to 19 was 43.7 percent, and 28.5 percent for refugees aged 20 to 29.

According to the statement from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Hariri said at the briefing that there is no doubt that Lebanon had human, social and moral duties toward the Palestinians. But he added that Palestinian refugees would never become citizens of Lebanon or be offered any other option that would deprive them of their Palestinian identity and the right to return to their homeland.

Hassan Mneimneh, the chairman of the joint Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee, said at the briefing that the significance of the findings is that many of the prohibitions on Palestinians can be lifted. The head of the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, Ola Awad, said that precise findings can be a basis of policy and strategy to improve the lives of Palestinian refugees. She added that the Palestinian presence in Lebanon and other countries was temporary, until their right to self-determination was realized and they returned to their homes.

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