Palestinians are excluded from 36 occupations in Lebanon (including medicine, farming and fisheries) which confines them to low-paying, low-skilled occupations in the informal sector. 86% of PRL don’t have contracts with employers which means they are often ‘subject to harsh, exploitive and insecure working conditions’. 53% of PRS are paid on a daily basis and nearly all (97%) have nothing more than verbal agreements with employers.
During periods of lockdown caused by COVID-19, Palestinians are likely to lose their income without any compensation from the state or their employers. To help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has committed to provide ‘one round of cash assistance of US$ 40 per person, covering 50% of the minimum basic food requirements’. However, this is unlikely to represent the kind of sustained support needed to weather the pandemic.
In September 2020, UNRWA launched an emergency COVID-19 funding appeal calling on donors to contribute the $94.6m it estimated as needed to provide healthcare, hospitalisation, education services, food and cash assistance to the 5.6m Palestinians under their care across all their fields of operation, including Lebanon. By 9 November, however, UNRWA’s financial crisis had worsened to the point that it appealed for emergency finance of $70m to pay the salaries of its 28,000 employees to the end of 2020. The main source of this funding crisis was the withdrawal of United States (US) support for the agency by the Trump administration in 2018, which amounts to approximately one third of its $1.1bn annual operating budget.
COVID-19 in Palestinian camps
The largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is Burj Barajneh which according to UNRWA has 19,539 registered refugees. However, this figure almost certainly excludes incoming PRS and other Syrian refugees not registered with UNRWA but are resident in the camp. The area of the camp is one kilometre square and the Lebanese government prohibits the expansion of this area which means the only way to increase capacity is upward.