Cen­sus puts Pales­tinian refugees at third of es­ti­mates

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Vic­to­ria Yan

BEIRUT: Re­sults of the first of­fi­cial cen­sus of Pales­tini­ans in Le­banon re­leased Thurs­day re­vealed that the pop­u­la­tion is con­sid­er­ably smaller than pre­vi­ously es­ti­mated.

The cen­sus found that 174,422 refugees lived in Le­banon’s 12 camps and “gath­er­ings” – sig­nif­i­cantly fewer than the long-stand­ing and widely used es­ti­mate of 450,000.

“There was a lot of talk about the num­ber of Pales­tinian refugees in the coun­try, and we were hear­ing record num­bers in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, but this com­mit­tee put things in per­spec­tive,” Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri said at the re­lease event.

“The gov­ern­ment launched the cen­sus, and we have to­day a good out­come. Some were talk­ing about 400,000, 500,000 or 600,000 [refugees] but to­day the num­ber is clear. There are 174,422.”

The ini­tia­tive was spear­headed by the Le­banese Pales­tinian Di­a­logue Com­mit­tee, a gov­ern­men­tal group, with the aid of the Pales­tinian Cen­tral Bureau of Sta­tis­tics and Le­banon’s Cen­tral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sta­tis­tics.

In less than a year af­ter its of­fi­cial launch in Fe­bru­ary, the LPDC com­pleted its am­bi­tious goal.

Ti­tled “The Na­tional Pop­u­la­tion and Hous­ing Cen­sus of Pales­tinian Camps and Gath­er­ings in Le­banon,” the cen­sus counted the num­ber of in­hab­i­tants in the camps as well as ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas out­side camp perime­ters where at least 15 Pales­tinian fam­i­lies live, called “gath­er­ings.”

Gath­er­ings were bro­ken down into two groups: those who lived on the out­skirts of camps, largely due to con­flicts such as the 2007 clashes in the Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli, and those in other cities or vil­lages with sig­nif­i­cant Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tions. Ar­eas with pop­u­la­tions be­low 15 fam­i­lies were not in­cluded in the cen­sus. The find­ings came as a sur­prise to some, as the stan­dard es­ti­mate of the Pales­tinian refugee pop­u­la­tion in Le­banon cited by lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional me­dia as well as aid groups has long stood around 450,000. This fig­ure was based upon the num­ber of refugees reg­is­tered with the United Na­tions Re­lief and Works Agency for Pales­tine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

As no cen­sus in Le­banon had ever taken place, UNRWA’s reg­is­tra­tion records served as the most re­li­able go-to source for an es­ti­mate.

How­ever, UNRWA has never claimed that the num­ber of reg­is­tered refugees in Le­banon should have served as a de-facto head­count for the pop­u­la­tion.

“We have 469,331 refugees of­fi­cially reg­is­tered with UNRWA in Le­banon,” Huda Samra, spokesper­son for the U.N. agency, told The Daily Star. “This re­flects the num­ber of Pales­tine refugees in Le­banon who come to us to reg­is­ter for ben­e­fits, which in­clude ed­u­ca­tional, vo­ca­tional and health ser­vices.”

Deaths or re­lo­ca­tion out­side the camps and per­haps to other coun­tries are not nec­es­sar­ily re­ported to UNRWA. Ac­cord­ing to Samra, the num­ber of reg­is­tered refugees only per­tains to the num­ber of refugees who have come to the agency, open­ing a file to re­ceive ben­e­fits.

“There are also Pales­tini­ans who are in Le­banon who don’t reg­is­ter with UNRWA be­cause they don’t need our ser­vices so we don’t have any records of them.” Samra said. “The num­ber of reg­is­tered refugees is not a head­count of the pop­u­la­tion.”

As a key stake­holder with valu­able re­sources and data, UNRWA pro­vided tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to the LPDC as a con­sul­tant.

“From our side, we look for­ward to the out­come of the cen­sus be­cause it means we will have ad­di­tional data to our fig­ures which would help us bet­ter plan our ser­vices in co­or­di­na­tion with the Le­banese au­thor­i­ties,” Clau­dio Cor­done, di­rec­tor of UNRWA af­fairs in Le­banon, pre­vi­ously told The Daily Star.

In ad­di­tion, the cen­sus re­vealed that 35.8 per­cent of Pales­tinian refugees re­side in the south­ern city of Si­don. The area host­ing the sec­ond-largest amount of Pales­tinian refugees, at 25.1 per­cent, is north Le­banon, with Tyre – also in the south – host­ing 14.7 per­cent. Beirut is home to 13.4 per­cent, the Chouf 7.1 per­cent and the Bekaa Val­ley 4 per­cent.

As a re­sult of the aver­sion of Le­banese law­mak­ers to in­ves­ti­gate the coun­try’s sec­tar­ian de­mo­graph­ics as well as the trou­bled his­tory of Pales­tini­ans in Le­banon, ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Le­banon’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties and Pales­tinian fac­tions took place over three years be­fore crit­i­cal stake­hold­ers ap­proved con­duct­ing a cen­sus.

“This is the first time the main Le­banese par­ties – par­tic­u­larly the Le­banese Forces and Kataeb – have reached a point where they both agree this is nec­es­sary,” Imane Chamas, com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert at the LPDC pre­vi­ously told The Daily Star. At Thurs­day’s event, Hariri praised this his­toric co­op­er­a­tion with a joke. “I would re­ally like to com­mend the work of this com­mit­tee and task force. There was calm di­a­logue tak­ing place at the Grand Serail de­spite di­vi­sions. Know­ing what we were do­ing to each other out­side this room, you would be as­ton­ished to see the way we worked to­gether in­side,” the prime min­is­ter said, laugh­ing.

Hariri, along with other mem­bers of the LPDC, Thurs­day re­peat­edly em­pha­sized that the ar­rival of the first ever re­li­able fig­ures of Pales­tinian refugees in Le­banon would fi­nally put to rest fear-mon­ger­ing es­ti­mates from politi­cians and un­cer­tainty in pol­icy for aid groups.

“Th­ese find­ings demon­strate the need to con­duct cen­suses in all fields in a fac­tual manner with­out ex­ag­ger­a­tion, be­cause of the im­por­tance of such data,” Has­san Mneim­neh, chair­man of the LPDC, said.

“Such data ben­e­fits in­ter­na­tional bod­ies and al­lows them to un­der­take pro­grams to help ad­dress sit­u­a­tions in­stead of im­pro­vis­ing.”

Hariri wel­comed hav­ing an ac­cu­rate fig­ure for the num­ber of Pales­tinian refugees in Le­banon.

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