They came, they saw and now it's time to act
Shatila Camp, Beirut
The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), in partnership with the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) sponsored a delegation of British and EU MEPs to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon several weeks ago and the 10 member delegation has just released their findings.
It was a quick 48-hour trip filled with tightly scheduled briefing, mainly from Lebanese politicians, including President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister designate Najib Miqati as well as UNRWA officials, some Palestinian civil society organizations. In addition, the delegation visited refugees in Burj Barajneh, Nahr al Bared and Shatila Refugee camps.
Sir Gerald Kaufman, who led the delegation, told the Lebanese media: "When I went to Gaza in 2010 I thought I had seen the worst that could be seen of the appalling predicament of Palestinians living in conditions which no human being should be expected to endure. But what I saw in the camps in Lebanon is far worse and far more hopeless."
From the Lebanese politicians, the visitors like other delegations before them, heard basically the same vague support for Palestinian civil rights that they have been repeating for more than 20 years.
Typical were the words of Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman who explained to the delegation that: "Lebanon does not have the capacity to absorb 400,000 people; we simply cannot offer them a good life. The truth is that we will not see peace in the Middle East without the implementation of the refugees' right of return."
Of course the Lebanese Presidents presentation obscures the central issue almost completely. Suleiman's 400,000 Palestinian refugees, is a bit more accurate than some other politicians who use the scare tactic bogey figure of 500,000. In fact there are close to 250,000 Palestinians remaining in Lebanon and they are not seeking to be "absorbed" or even presented by Lebanon with "a good life", as Suleiman and others mistakenly and regularly aver. All they and the international community demand is that Lebanon's Palestinian refugees be granted the elementary civil rights that all refugees everywhere are entitled to. Most urgently, the right to work and to own a home.
The Lebanese politicians are correct that it's also an international problem and Lebanon has never been asked to shoulder the whole burden, but rather to do its part by granting the internationally mandated elementary civil rights. For the past 63 years Lebanon has shirked its duty.