BEIRUT: After a lengthy verification process, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency put the final head count of Palestinians coming from Syria and remaining in Lebanon at 45,000, lower than original estimates, its country director announced Thursday.
The verified number is almost half that of initial registration rates, which put 93,000 as the number of Palestinians displaced from Syria in Lebanon. The new reduced figure indicates that there is much cross-border activity among Palestinians coming and going back, UNRWA country director Ann Dismorr told The Daily Star.
“We’ve always known that there’s been a large influx and outflux of refugees, from both directions,” she said, adding that the agency did not have specific statistics on the two-way traffic.
By examining the dates on entry stamps marked by General Security each time a Palestinian crossed into Lebanon in particular, UNRWA was better able to assess not only how many had the intention of remaining in Lebanon, but also how many regularly venture back, often to check on homes or visit family members who chose to stay in the embattled country.
According to the agency, some Palestinians also come to Lebanon temporarily to seek medical care, as UNRWA in Syria is run mostly by volunteers, most of whom are Palestinian, and is under significant pressure given the country’s volatile conditions.
Dismorr emphasized that despite frequent border movements, Palestinians coming from Syria were still among the most vulnerable refugees, as statistics indicated that 56,000 people sought health services and about 5,000 additional children were expected to attend school this academic year.
A high rate of back-and-forth travel prompted entry restrictions last month for Palestinians coming from Syria, according a General Security source. UNRWA implemented a two-week waiting period for refugees to register, to discourage people from short trips into Lebanon merely to register for aid.
Asked about recent protests at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp over aid cuts, Dismorr blamed significant “misconceptions” over the agency’s decision to scale back its emergency relief program for Palestinians displaced from the camp after the 2007 conflict between the Army and Fatah al-Islam.