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Exclusive - Fatah Initiative to Return Syria’s Palestinian Refugees from Lebanon Flops

Exclusive - Fatah Initiative to Return Syria’s Palestinian Refugees from Lebanon Flops

Monday, 17 December, 2018 - 10:00
Residents queue up to receive humanitarian aid at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk. (Reuters)
Beirut - Paula Astih
The Palestinian Fatah movement’s initiative to return to Syria Palestinian refugees who had fled the country’s conflict has flopped four months after its launch.

The movement had offered $1,000 to each family seeking to return to their refugee camps in Syria. So far, only some 200 people have responded to the initiative.

The majority of the refugees who had fled to Lebanon had come from the Yarmuk camp south of the capital Damascus. The camp was heavily damaged in the war and the most of its residents were forced to flee. Many of them have settled in the Ain el-Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon. Others went to the Beddawi camp in the country’s North.

Secretary of Fatah and Palestinian Liberation Organization factions in Lebanon Fathi Abou al-Ardat said that at the height of the fighting in Syria, 92,000 Palestinians fled Syria to Lebanon. The majority of them have since departed to other countries, while some 20,000 have remained in Lebanon.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that despite the initiative to facilitate their return to Syria, several obstacles, such as intense security measures, have led to its failure.

Moreover, he explained that 80 percent of the Yarmuk camp was destroyed during the conflict. Even though efforts are underway to reconstruct it and remove the rubble, the process is linked to the availability of funds.

This has so far not encouraged the refugees to go back home, he added.

A member of the committee tasked with removing the rubble, Mahmoud Khaled, told Russia’s Sputnik news agency some two months ago that some 40 percent of buildings in Yarmuk are suitable for residents. Some 40 percent need renovation and 20 percent were destroyed.

A recent United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) report, however, said that 23 buildings, including 16 schools, in the camp need major renovation. Some 75 percent of the buildings need to be completely reconstructed.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, had registered the entry of 54,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria over the past eight years.

Aide for refugee affairs Ola Bustros said that the number of these Palestinian refugees was gradually dropping.

“The Palestinian factions are launching an initiative to ensure their return to their camps in Syria,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The camps in Lebanon, she explained, are already overcrowded and they cannot support more refugees.

She revealed that Iran was working on building more than 30,000 residential units in Syria, which will allow the Palestinians to return home.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil is holding talks with all concerned international powers to safeguard their return, “unfortunately, however, the Lebanese state has not yet taken a firm decision on the matter even though Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was receptive to his efforts.”

She explained that the Lebanese political factions’ ongoing failure to form a government is hindering any progress in the file, including the approval of a plan drafted by Bassil on the refugees’ return.

Some 600,000 Palestinian refugees were living in Syria before the war. Some half of them fled with the eruption of hostilities in 2011, said a Palestinian source.

A 2017 survey in Lebanon found that 174,000 Palestinian refugees were living in 12 camps and 156 encampments in Lebanon.

The UNRWA office in Beirut puts the figure at 449,000.

Palestinian official attribute the discrepancy in numbers to the immigration of refugees from Lebanon.

Director of the center for strategic studies and human development, Palestinian researcher Hisham Debsy criticized Fatah’s initiative, saying it was “inapplicable.”

“How can $1,000 be enough to support a family and help it remove rubble from its home?” he wondered to Asharq Al-Awsat.

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