As of March 2014, over 52,000 Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS) were seeking safety and shelter from the ongoing conflict in Lebanon. However, even Lebanon is becoming an increasingly desperate option.
One of the most immediate concerns for PRS is shelter, but a housing shortage, combined with the government's reluctance to authorize the establishment of new refugee camps, has made rental prices prohibitively high. The increase has not spared the country's 12 existing Palestine refugee camps, which suffered from high rates of poverty and overcrowding even before the influx. It is crucial that UNRWA continue to be able to provide rental assistance in order to help Palestine refugees fulfil this important need.
Providing continued, reliable access to education helps UNRWA ensure a sense of normalcy for PRS children and prevent major disruptions in their academic progress. In Lebanon, we are working to accommodate PRS children and address their needs; as of March, 7,400 PRS children were attending UNRWA schools in Lebanon – 15 per cent integrated into the regular UNRWA system in the country and 85 per cent in special classes for PRS. The overall low enrolment, however, indicates the difficulties PRS families are facing in finding stability and shelter.
Our health programme is also facing new challenges. While PRS are able to access UNRWA primary health care services, and the Agency has provided support for secondary and tertiary care for those with life-threatening conditions, the growing numbers - combined with the already high costs of medical care in Lebanon - make it increasingly difficult for UNRWA to ensure adequate access to critical care.
Especially in light of the continuing regional crisis, protection remains one of our main priorities. When they attempt to find safety in Lebanon, Palestine refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria are subjected to a separate visa policy, which is both expensive and offers a limited duration of stay. The difficulties of maintaining a valid legal status make PRS particularly vulnerable, as they can become ineligible for civil registration or lose access to certain Palestine refugee camps. UNRWA is enhancing the legal counselling services we provide to advise Palestine refugees from Syria on visas, legal status, civil registration and other matters.