Lebanon recently confirmed the first COVID-19 case among Palestinian refugees in the country.
The case was in Wavel, a refugee camp located in the Baqaa Valley near Baalbek. After the patient was transferred to the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut for treatment, Bachir Khodr, head of the Baalbek-Hermel Governorate, announced that the camp would be closed and monitored by Lebanese state security forces.
Although the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lebanon had surpassed 700 on 27 April, and a nationwide lockdown was instituted in March, no similar security closures have been imposed elsewhere. The announcement reflects decades of security oversight of Palestinians in Lebanon and will make the already difficult lives of Palestinian refugees in the country even harder.
The lockdown was declared on 15 March. The emergency measures are expected to be in force for some time.
The Lebanese authorities have also adopted a number of preventive measures to avoid the rapid spread of the virus, including a relief plan for poor families.
However, Palestinian and Syrian refugees are not eligible for support, which extends only to Lebanese citizens.
There are more than 475,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon – who are not considered citizens – and two thirds are poor.
More than 60,000 live on less than $2 per day and depend on quarterly financial grants and assistance provided by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine’s refugees, of roughly $50 per person per quarter.
This assistance was barely enough to meet their basic needs before an economic crisis began last year let alone a global pandemic. And the lockdowns – which apply to refugee camps as well as the rest of the country – have hit refugee incomes especially hard.
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face legal restrictions that limit their right to work. Since most depend on daily labor paid in cash, the national lockdown has had a devastating impact on their livelihoods.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA initiated an emergency plan whereby the agency closed its facilities, implemented awareness campaigns within the Palestinian refugee camps and gatherings in Lebanon, and announced it would cover 90 percent of health expenditures related to COVID-19 testing and treatment.
However, the plan did not initially include a provision to ameliorate the economic conditions of refugees suffering due to the closure.
In March, UNRWA then launched an urgent appeal for $14 million in additional funding in response to COVID-19.
But the appeal has not not received the desired response from governments around the world.
According to Sami Mushasha, an UNRWA spokesperson, by April 10, the agency had received just about a quarter of the amount it sought. It has been forced to draw funds from other programs.