By Stephen McCloskey
Abstract: One of the largely unreported aspects of the Syrian conflict has been its impact on Palestinian refugees. Sixty per cent of these refugees (Palestinian Refugees Syria (PRS)) have been displaced at least once since the start of the conflict in 2011 and more than 4,000 have been killed. Three Palestinian refugee camps have been destroyed and more than 77,329 Palestinians are estimated to have been born since the start of the war into highly vulnerable and deprived communities. 29,000 PRS have fled to Lebanon and many have taken refuge in the camps for Palestinian Refugees Lebanon (PRL) administered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This has increased pressure on UNRWA services which include cash and food aid, employment, schools and vocational training centres, health clinics and women’s centres. Following the Trump administration’s withdrawal of funding for UNRWA in 2018, which amounted to approximately one third of its budget, the agency has been under extreme financial pressure at a time when arguably the need for its services has never been greater. UNRWA’s struggle to maintain support to 5.4 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East will be put to the ultimate test with the 2020 pandemic, COVID-19, sweeping across the world. Palestinian refugees living in densely populated camps, many with high levels of illness and disability, are extremely vulnerable to the virus. This article will consider the current situation confronting PRL and PRS in the context of the Syrian war, economic upheaval in Lebanon, the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and cuts to UNRWA’s budget.
Key words: Syrian conflict; Lebanon; Palestinian refugees; UNRWA; Economic Upheaval; COVID-19.