Refugee camps in Lebanon face further restrictions

Posted: August 9, 2011 by Rex Brynen in Lebanon

Recent months have not been good ones for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The modest reforms agreed to by the Lebanese parliament last year have yet to be properly implemented, and are likely to only have marginal effect. Tensions in Ain al-Hilwa camp between Fateh and Jund al-Sham/Fateh al-Islam have escalted to shooting matches. UNRWA faces new challenges.

And, on top of that, Interior Minister (and ex-ISF Major General) Marwan Charbel is proposing to further restrict physical access to the camps and limit the availability of building materials. According to the Daily Star:

The minister’s current proposal includes “a mechanism and regulations to control the construction process in the Palestinian camps, and ensure a legal basis for it, by reducing the main and side entry points to the camps to a specific number and closing unnecessary entrances with cement barricades to allow only pedestrians, while forbidding cars and vehicles.”

Charbel’s proposal bans the construction of any building in the camps without a legal license, which would allow the entry of construction materials to approved sites.

The entry of building materials into the camps would be subject to the approval of the Lebanese government, after the Defense Ministry and the Army Command have been consulted.

Projects by the UNRWA inside the refugee camps would be monitored by the Lebanese Army and members of the the Internal Security Forces, according to Charbel’s proposal.

Internal Security Forces would establish observation posts at the camps’ main and side entrances to control incoming and outgoing cars, trucks and goods. These forces would be backed up by army units ready to intervene in the event of any violation.

One can understand the desire to extend Lebanese sovereignty, however incrementally, over Palestinian camps in Lebanon—their current de facto extra territoriality is far from being an ideal state of affairs. However, it is hard to see unlicensed building within camp boundaries (like that ever happens anywhere else in Lebanon!) as a major public policy problem. Instead, it looks far more like an effort to impose a punitive, security-led approach that will likely serve to only worsen socioeconomic conditions and heighten Palestinian marginalization.

Indeed, in the long run it isn’t even a very good security policy for precisely that reason.

As Lebanon-watchers will remember, Charbel was finally chosen as Interior Minister after a long stalemate between Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and President Suleiman over who would fill the seat. Charbel was chosen as a compromise candidate that both sides could live with, and indeed he’s shown a few signs of independence. On this issue, however, he seems to be aligning himself with the anti-Palestinian agenda of the Aounists.

It will be interesting to see how Hizbullah weighs in on all of this. In the (now somewhat distant) past they often supported a more humane Lebanese government policy towards the refugees. Last August, however, they prioritized political expediency and their alliance with the FPM, and did little to push forward the refugee policy reforms that had first been proposed by Walid Jumblat and the Progressive Socialist Party. Perhaps they are weighing in behind the scenes now within cabinet. If the proposed restrictions go forward, however, it will be yet another case of Hizbullah having waved the Palestinian flag, only to abandon the refugees in the interest of higher political interests.

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