Syrian Palestinians in Lebanon fear for future as UNRWA cuts aid
A recent decision by a UN agency to cut off cash payments to 27,000 Palestinian refugees who fled from Syria to Lebanon as a result of the Syrian conflict has sparked protests from anxious recipients.
UNRWA, the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees, announced earlier this month that it would stop giving Palestinian families in Lebanon displaced from Syria a monthly cash payment of US$100 from the start of next year.
The cash-strapped agency said it would instead give each refugee $25 per month, from funds that UNRWA is currently trying to acquire.
UNRWA also said that it would stop all payments under a “cash for food” programme.
Eighty-five percent of Palestinian refugees who fled from Syria to Lebanon currently depend on aid from UNRWA, and the agency’s announcement comes at a time when Lebanon is suffering from a severe economic crisis, sending the cost of staple goods spiralling.
Two days after the agency announced the decision, dozens of Palestinian refugees from Syria protested outside the UNRWA office in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Beirut, calling on the agency to continue providing aid as before.
Most of these refugees now live in Palestinian refugee camps among the descendants of Palestinians who fled to Lebanon during the 1948 Nakba, in poor conditions. Many humanitarian agencies have made cutbacks to the aid they provide recently.
Julnar Riad is a Palestinian refugee originally from the city of Ramleh in what is now Israel. She fled in 2013 from the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus to the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp south of Beirut, where she lives with her mother.
Riad told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service: “I work as a volunteer at the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation. I receive a symbolic volunteer’s fee which isn’t enough to meet rent or the needs of the house. Today we depend on the help UNRWA gives which is $100 for housing for a family and $12.50 for food for a person.”
“At a time when prices are rising and refugees are suffering, UNRWA decided to decrease the aid it gives to Palestinian refugees from Syria, by cancelling the $100 rent aid it provided and increasing the $12.50 living costs per person to $25.
“This of course is not enough, especially because Palestinians from Syria live in rented homes and depend on the aid to pay rent. In the end they will be thrown out into the street,” Riad said.
UNRWA’s funding crisis began after the administration of former US President Donald Trump decided to cut off aid to the organisation in 2018. It has had to scale back assistance programmes in the Gaza Strip, Jordan, and Syria, as well as Lebanon.
The Biden administration announced that it would restore some funding to the agency, but many other states, such as the UAE, which normalised relations with Israel in 2020, have also cut funding.
The Palestinian Association for Human Rights, known as Witness, has called on UNRWA to U-turn on its planned aid cut, saying that the agency was ignoring the economic situation of Palestinian refugees who had fled from Syria to Lebanon.
Riad said that she planned to take part in more protests outside UNRWA offices in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and the main headquarters in Lebanon, adding that a hunger strike was also planned.