Citizens Of Nowhere

In 1948 around 750,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the Arab-Israeli War. Israelis refer to the conflict as the ‘War of Liberation’ whilst Palestinians refer to this event as the ‘Nakba’ which is Arabic for ‘disaster’ or ‘catastrophe’. It’s a conflict which set the tone for the region to this day, in one of the world’s most heated and enduring conflicts.

It’s estimated that 80% of the Arab inhabitants of the area that became Israel fled. And so they poured over the borders of neighbouring countries, seeking refuge. Made homeless in an instant.

At first these camps resembled what you might expect a typical refugee camp to look like - vast expanses of tents, very basic hygiene facilities and supplies of aid provided by truck and train. Camps popped up in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

That was 70 years ago. And they’re still there.

But over time, they’ve evolved. These are camps in name only. They’re towns.

Lebanon is home to the largest population of refugees on the planet with around 1.5 million displaced people. Around a third of these (450 thousand) are the Palestinian refugees we’ve already mentioned. The other 1 million are from the more recent conflict in Syria, many of whom are also Palestinian refugees who were living in camps in Syria.

The 450 thousand Palestinian refugees are based in 12 recognised populations, overlooked by the Lebanese military. Life there is tough.

You see, Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which sets out the rights of refugees and the obligations on a host state to protect them. As such, the government don’t officially recognise these 450,000 people as refugees. Therefore, they are stateless with few rights and little legal protection.

In practical terms this means that Lebanon’s refugee population are barred from opening bank accounts, attending school or college, owning property or accessing free state healthcare. They are forbidden from working in dozens of occupations – including many professional jobs in medicine, engineering and law – with only menial jobs available to them.

This is in stark contrast to similar camps in say, Jordan.

It’s been this way since the first refugees arrived in 1948.

That’s a group the size of the population of Leeds - stateless and homeless for 70 years, with no clear end in sight.

For younger people living in the camps, they know nothing else. It’s a bitter inheritance. At least 3 generations.

They're citizens of nowhere.

Christian Aid are there of course. We’ll be sharing some more personal stories from these camps later in the year. Keep an eye out.