BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri reiterated the importance of the right of return for Palestinians Thursday at an event launching the first official census of the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon. “The whole world should be aware of how much the Palestinians are suffering in Lebanon and how much the Lebanese are suffering [as a consequence]. Israel is [seizing] the Palestinian territories and we are witnessing the results,” Hariri said.
The prime minister spoke during the launch of the “Comprehensive Census of Population and Housing in Palestinian Camps and Gatherings in Lebanon,” a project of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee at the Grand Serail.
Hariri went on to say that the presence of Palestinian refugees was welcomed in Lebanon, but highlighted the need for the community to be able to return to their homeland. “This work emphasizes [Palestinians’] right to return to their country. Hopefully when this report is ready, we will have figures that will confirm to the international community ... the scale of the problems caused by Israel in Palestine and in Lebanon,” he said.
He added that the right of return for Palestinians was pivotal due to the impact of refugee populations on host communities, “Lebanon cannot host such a large number of Palestinian refugees who have the right to return. The suffering is increasing in light of the presence of 1.5 million Syrian refugees.”
Several ministers, MPs, ambassadors and international organizations were present at the launch.
Chairman of the LPDC Hassan Mneimneh spoke of the importance of the project and its timing. “The census, the first of its kind, will provide the Lebanese state and its institutions with official and comprehensive statistical data on the camps and gatherings inhabited by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, which will help develop public policies in the future,” he said, adding that the results of the census could be used as a basis for implementing urgent projects needed by the Palestinian community in Lebanon.
Mneimneh touched on recent local and regional security issues saying, “[It will help] to re-examine the gravity of the current Palestinian situation in Lebanon, particularly with the infiltration of extremist groups in some camps, where they exploit the poverty, marginalization and absence of state control.”
Last week an intelligence officer at the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon escaped an assassination attempt in Sidon. Palestinian refugee camps, especially Ain al-Hilweh, have become havens for wanted militants and officials have warned they may host radical sleeper cells.
In the effort to improve the overall conditions of camps, president of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics Ola Awad said the census will be a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Director-General of the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics Maral Tutelian explained the process and timetable of the data collection.
The project is expected to be completed within 15 months, divided into four stages: planning and preparation, field work, data verification and analysis and data publication and distribution.
The study aims to reach all residents of the 12 Palestinian camps, refugees in areas adjacent to the camps as well as refugees in the roughly 121 “Palestinian gatherings” outside the official camps.
Tutelian said she hoped the census would lay the ground work for future censuses for other Lebanese areas and populations. “This provides the primary database for carrying out studies and surveys that accurately reflect the socioeconomic situation in the country and allow the development of plans and implementation of measures fit to the needs of the Lebanese community.”
The study will be conducted with the support of the Japanese government and UNICEF.
There are an estimated 450,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, with an estimated 65 percent of them believed to be living below the local poverty line. A further 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinian refugees have fled the conflict in Syria to Lebanon in recent years.