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Protection challenges in a legal vacuum - the case of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
Alain Robyns

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not enjoy international and national protection as they should do. They live in enclaves outside the Lebanese rule of law. Practices in the refugee camps are regulated by traditions, abuse of power is common and local practices may be contrary to the needs of victims. Despite 60 years of Palestinian refugee presence and international assistance in Lebanon, refugee camp organisation and dynamics are poorly documented. The present abstract highlights the situation in refugee camps outside Lebanese State control and looks at some practices in contradiction with international conventions protecting refugees and children.

An estimated 300,000 refugees living in Lebanon find themselves in an equivocal situation. As Palestinian refugees they do not benefit from the protection other refugees receive from international organs. Although Palestinians who fled Palestine in 1948 due to the conflict were identified as refugees, they were excluded from the 1951 refugee convention. In Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, West Bank and Gaza Strip specific agencies were created for the provision of assistance (UNRWA) and protection (UNCCP) though by the mid 1950s, the latter limited its intervention to property issues and nowadays is no longer operational.

In theory, the Lebanese authorities are supposed to bear the responsibility for and to ensure the protection of Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon but in practice the authorities have rarely acknowledged this responsibility. The Lebanese State provides no basic services for Palestinian refugees and their rights in Lebanon have always been very restricted. Apart from residency rights, they are denied social and economic rights and are considered to be foreigners. Palestinian refugees are severely restricted from access to work and possession of property.

Although the Lebanese legislation is very restrictive towards Palestinian refugees, the Lebanese authorities have granted Palestinian refugees significant autonomy over the refugee camps located within Lebanon; to the extent that they can be compared de facto to extraterritorial entities. This situation is the result of the complex history of the Arab struggle against Israel and the presence of Palestinian armed groups in Lebanon reflected in the status quo reached with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its military apparatus at the end of the 1960s.

In practice, Palestinian camps are outside Lebanese jurisdiction. There are no representatives of the Lebanese authority in the refugee camps and Lebanese police, security and military forces do not enter the camps where security is ensured by the Palestinians themselves. Palestinian camps are considered havens for outlaws and people wanted by the Lebanese authorities.