Venetia Rainey
The Daily Beast
February 11, 2013 - 1:00am

Like most conversations between strangers, it began with the weather.?

Abul Nidal (not to be confused with the founder of Fatah, Abu Nidal) tells me there is a bizarre phenomenon occurring in the cramped confines of Sabra, one of Beirut’s refugee camps. “First it rains outside, on the roof. When it finishes raining there, it rains inside,” he says, pointing to the stains on the walls and ceiling.??

For Syria’s Palestinian refugees, fleeing their adopted country’s civil war to safety in Lebanon, finding a little humor in their bleak situation is often all they can do.?

We are sitting in Nidal’s rented “apartment,” a damp, concrete box with two rooms, the largest of which is covered in thin mattresses and rugs. There are 19 people living here, including his five grown children and their kids. They pay $300 a month for rent alone. Electricity and water cost extra. ??

He looks exhausted by the situation he has found himself in. Around us, three women and nearly a dozen children under 10 have arranged themselves on the floor. In his hands, Nidal plays with the broken peak of his baseball cap.??

This is the second time he has had to leave his home in Yarmouk and come to Lebanon to escape the Syrian conflict.??

“Now we have two rights of return,” he says, smiling wryly. “One to Palestine and one to Syria.”??

Like most of the nearly three-quarters of a million refugees who have fled Syria’s increasingly brutal war, Nidal and his family escaped with nothing but the clothes on their back.??

But unlike their fully Syrian counterparts, the only U.N. agency allowed to help the Palestinian Syrians is the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the desperately overstretched refugee body that was set up in 1947 specifically to deal with Palestinians displaced following the creation of Israel.

Even before the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Palestinian refugees were among the poorest communities in Syria. Now, Nidal’s financial situation is desperate.

Just to get into Lebanon, each Palestinian Syrian has to pay around $20, which buys them a weeklong visa that can be extended for up to one month for twice that amount. These fees are “prohibitively expensive, particularly for larger families,” says a statement Human Rights Watch on the issue. By contrast, full-nationality Syrians do not pay to enter Lebanon and are given a free six-month visa on arrival.

The one-time $40 UNRWA allowance that each member of Nidal’s family received on arrival is long gone, he says, and the food vouchers they were given can only be used at specific, more expensive, places. He went out this morning to find work but found nothing. In four days’ time, he will have to pay his rent.

This is a typical experience for the more than 20,000 Palestinian Syrians who have recently sought refuge in Lebanon. Because of their nationality, they are receiving a different level of assistance than other Syrian refugees. Further, most end up staying in places like Sabra or Ain al-Hilweh, among Lebanon’s pre-existing Palestinian community, whom HRW has long described as living in “appalling social and economic conditions”.

Syria’s Palestinians refugees face similar barriers in Jordan, where they are now being refused entry at the border.??


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017