This is the first Trend Assessment in an ongoing series launched by ICMPD’s Policy, Research and Strategy Directorate. These assessments engage on topics on which ICMPD can contribute knowledge and insight through our expertise. In Lebanon, current migration research, policy-making and operational priorities in Lebanon currently overwhelmingly focus on the situation of and impact of Syrian refugees in the country.
While this is an important topic in and of itself, this assessment turns its focus to another group in the country – that of Palestinian refugees – in order to provide complementary information that can provide a more holistic view to the migratory situation in and from the country.
Migration of Palestinian refugees from Lebanon is not a new phenomenon, in fact having its roots in earlier migratory movements since the 1960s to Europe and the Arab Gulf region. Nonetheless, recently, increasing numbers have migrated irregularly from the country, and particularly towards Europe. This trend assessment examines this trend, as well as its root causes and implications for key stakeholders in the region and in Europe.
The root causes identified by the research can be identified as two-fold: structural issues that affect Palestinians in Lebanon’s access to rights and their socio-economic situation, and recent developments that contribute Palestinians’ migration decisions. These root causes in and of themselves do not lead to increased migration trends, but rather all together contribute to a feeling of precariousness among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and to their consideration of emigration as a strategy to improve their own situation. In terms of recent developments, these can be summarised as follows:
The Syrian refugee crisis has been identified as one factor that impacts on the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon. This has been in terms of further degradation of infrastructure in Lebanon (particularly within Palestinian camps), shifting of attention away from the Palestinian issue, shifts in perceptions of foreigners in Lebanon and shifts in the acceptability of irregular migration among Palestinians.
The aggravated current situation of UNRWA, particularly in terms of funding cuts, was also identified as a key recent factor. Such cuts have impacted Palestinians’ access to services and employment in the country, and seems to serve as an indicator to Palestinians as to where their issue stands in the global political arena.
National policy approaches in Lebanon, as well as adjustments in implementation of policies, were also noted by some stakeholders as impacting on migration decisions of Palestinians.
Recent international engagement on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process also emerged as a contributing factor in terms of increased anxiety among the community.
Lack of direction or engagement on “the refugee issue” at the political level was also cited as contributing to Palestinians’ consideration of migration as a more immediate solution.
These root causes have contributed to Palestinians’ consideration of migration as a solution to their current situation. However, the lack of legal channels has meant that an uptick of irregular migration has been observed, particularly towards Europe (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, via Spain or Belgium). For this recent trend, air routes from Beirut airport were identified, used by young men and/or families. Across the board stakeholders agreed that this trend will continue and potentially increase.
Finally, this trend has implications for Palestinians themselves, for stakeholders in Lebanon and for European stakeholders. In general, as Palestinian refugees in Lebanon feel their situation getting further from a resolution and/or degraded, they will continue to turn to emigration and other coping strategies.