The protracted consequences of the Syria crisis, coupled with the socio-economic deterioration in Lebanon and Syria and the impacts of COVID-19, continue to pose grave humanitarian challenges to Palestine refugees.
Localized active fighting in Syria continued in 2021, particularly in the north-west and south. In Dera’a Governorate, month-long violent clashes in August 2021 between government forces and non-state armed groups led to the displacement of over 36,000 civilians, including approximately 3,000 Palestine refugees from Dera’a refugee camp.
Despite the overall reduction in hostilities, insecurity continues to affect the Palestine refugee community. This situation is not expected to improve in 2022. According to UNRWA estimates, around 40 per cent of the Palestine refugee population in Syria remain in protracted displacement.
The risk posed to civilians by Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) in areas that witnessed active conflict in the past, including some Palestine refugee camps, remains high.
The deteriorating Syrian economy and rising inflation is giving rise to a real threat of hunger. A drastic loss of purchasing power has increased fears amongst the population, including Palestine refugees, about their ability to meet their basic needs, in particular food.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), 12.4 million Syrians are now food insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the previous year and the highest number ever recorded.1 An UNRWA survey in May 2021 found that 82 per cent of the refugees interviewed now live on less than US$ 1.9 a day and that 48 per cent of total household expenditure was spent on food, indicating severe distress within families.
The situation in Syria has been further compounded by the growing crises in Lebanon. According to the World Bank, the “deepening economic and political crisis in neighbouring Lebanon and the introduction of the Caesar Law have further restrained Syria’s external economic ties, leading to fuel shortages, price hikes, and a rapid depreciation in local currency.”2 The COVID-19 pandemic has placed increased hardship on the entire population and between September and November 2021 there was a sharp increase in cases and the reported number of COVID-19 hospital referrals. COVID-19 testing capacity remains low and it is likely that the actual number of cases is significantly higher with only 2.4 per cent of the population having been fully vaccinated by 31 October 2021.3 The health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and the economic crisis are expected to persist and will continue to constrain Palestine refugees’ income and livelihood opportunities.
A decade of crisis has undermined the social fabric that held refugee communities and the wider Syrian society together and pre-existing family and community-level support for women and girls is no longer guaranteed.
According to Agency records, female Palestine refugees account for 60 per cent of the most vulnerable Palestine refugee caseload in Syria.
During 2021, Lebanon experienced multiple financial and economic shocks, including hyperinflation and chronic fuel and energy crises resulting in increasing civil unrest. A government was finally formed in September 2021, however, urgent reform is required to mitigate the soaring cost of living; the Lebanese pound (LBP) continued to depreciate against the US dollar and subsidies on basic items and medications were lifted, leaving them out of reach for most of the Lebanese population.
For Palestine refugees in Lebanon (PRL), the crisis has led to increased poverty with 73 per cent of families now living below the poverty line and unable to cover their basic needs, and 58 per cent reported having to reduce meal sizes and frequency, according to UNRWA surveys. The situation for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) is of particular concern with 87.3 per cent already living below the absolute poverty line in 2020 and 11.3 per cent existing in a state of abject poverty.
PRS are being pushed into ever more negative coping mechanisms to survive, including missing meals, child marriages, child labour, debt and unsustainable borrowing practices. Families struggle to provide for the additional needs of the elderly and family members with disabilities.
The economic decline and impact of COVID-19 has led to a protection crisis for many PRL and the stress is driving an increase in violence against women and children, interpersonal disputes and factional violence in some refugee camps.
By 31 October 2021, there was a relatively high COVID-19 infection rate amongst Palestine refugees with 15,443 infected with the virus and 1,819 requiring hospitalization. Further compounding this, vaccine hesitancy has been high amongst Palestine refugees.
In Jordan, COVID-19 lockdown measures have devastated the economy and Palestine refugees are facing increased pressures and inequalities due to the drastic reduction in household incomes and livelihood opportunities. The situation is expected to remain dire in 2022 given that unemployment and poverty rates are likely to increase.
Approximately 18,490 PRS who continue to live in Jordan, after almost a decade of displacement, face multi-dimensional challenges, including poverty, food insecurity, protection risks and associated concerns around their legal status in Jordan.
The COVID-19 outbreak has further increased these vulnerabilities. According to a recent UNRWA PostDistribution Monitoring (PDM) survey (July-September 2021), only 11 per cent of surveyed PRS confirmed that when combined with other sources of income, the quarterly multi-purpose cash assistance provided by UNRWA was sufficient to cover their basic needs for food and non-food items (NFIs) for three months. Out of these, 29 per cent did not have any other source of income.
Under strategic priority one in 2022, UNRWA will continue to provide emergency assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria and PRS in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as other extremely vulnerable Palestine refugees in the three fields of operation.
UNRWA will provide critical humanitarian assistance through cash assistance and in-kind food baskets for 420,000 Palestine refugees in Syria to help meet part of their survival needs. Of these, 145,000 of the most vulnerable refugees,4 will receive US$ 25 per person per month with the remaining caseload receiving US$ 18 each per month. Other support to particularly vulnerable refugees will include NFIs for refugee returnees and newly-displaced families. The self-help shelter repair project that was piloted in 2021 will be expanded to support a further 700 families whose homes have been damaged and in urgent needed of repair.
In Lebanon, relief assistance will be provided to support extremely vulnerable Palestine refugees who have exhausted resources and are increasingly resorting to negative coping mechanisms. The Agency will provide 162,301 PRL, PRS and other eligible populations5 with emergency cash assistance (US$ 25 per person) to support them meet their most basic needs. Due to their high level of vulnerability all 9,000 PRS families will also receive two one-off payments of US$ 150 per family. In 2022, the Agency is expanding its emergency support to include 133,301 vulnerable PRL who are disproportionately affected by the crises in Lebanon, including refugees registered in the UNRWA social safety net programme (SSNP), elderly refugees, refugees with disabilities and those suffering from chronic illnesses.
In Jordan, UNRWA will provide an estimated 19,0006 PRS with regular quarterly cash assistance and a topup one-off cash assistance to help them cope with the economic impact of COVID-19. PRS families whose head of household does not hold any Jordanian documentation and therefore cannot access government services will receive a higher rate of US$ 40 per person per month; the remaining caseload will receive US$ 25 per person per month. Some 477 PRS, 155 Syrians and 19 Jordanian nationals residing in the King Abdullah Park (KAP),7 who are considered extremely vulnerable, will also continue to receive regular cash assistance. Families who experience a major shock or crisis will receive an additional one-off payment and, during the last quarter of 2022, winterization assistance will be provided to all PRS with amounts of assistance ranging between US$ 277 and US$ 453 depending on family size. The 2022 emergency appeal (EA) will also support the distribution of two rounds of cash assistance to 159,245 vulnerable ex-Gazans and Palestinian refugees from Iraq (PRI) who continue to struggle with the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19.
Under strategic priority two, UNRWA will continue to support the provision of health, education, technical and vocational training, protection and environmental health services in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
In 2022, in all three fields, UNRWA will maintain primary health services and secondary and tertiary medical care to PRS. In Syria, UNRWA will continue the home delivery of medications to vulnerable refugees suffering from a non-communicable disease (NCD). Two mobile clinics will be deployed to areas where refugees are facing movement restrictions and to locations where Agency health facilities have been damaged or destroyed during the conflict. In Lebanon, UNRWA will continue to provide basic coverage for hospitalization costs for PRS and an additional top up for secondary and tertiary care for the most vulnerable PRL. In Jordan, hospitalization coverage will be provided to 800 PRS and primary health care services for PRS in KAP, in partnership with the Jordan Health Aid Society (JHAS), will be maintained.
In Syria, Lebanon and Jordan UNRWA will ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures remain in place to protect the health of all refugees and Agency staff. All health frontline staff will continue to receive Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and adequate cleaning and disinfection will be maintained at UNRWA health facilities, schools and training centres and all offices and installations. In Lebanon, UNRWA will cover hospitalization costs and medications for 1,000 refugees requiring COVID-19 treatment, and will provide Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for 10,000 PRL and PRS. In all fields, UNRWA will continue to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination amongst refugees and staff.
The education of refugee children and youth has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis. In 2022, UNRWA will continue to deliver basic, quality and inclusive education through its Education in Emergencies (EiE) approach in schools and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) centres.8 While schools are currently open for in-person education in all of the three fields covered by this appeal, UNRWA will maintain flexibility throughout the year to shift to blended or remote learning modalities depending on the evolving context. Under this appeal, UNRWA will also strive to maintain and increase psychosocial support (PSS) to students in all three fields as well as tutoring/educational support to compensate for the learning loss resulting from a year of school closures. To ensure that the most vulnerable students have access to school, in 2022 UNRWA will provide school transportation for 11,838 students in Lebanon and 475 in Syria (mainly for families who have returned to Ein el Tal and Yarmouk camps). UNRWA will also provide assistive devices to students in Jordan with visual or hearing disabilities and school kits will be provided to SSN students.
In 2022, UNRWA will apply a gender perspective in all its interventions. The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis has exposed vulnerable Palestine refugees, in particular women and children, to heightened protection-related risks, including GenderBased Violence (GBV) and abuse, violence against children, and the isolation of the elderly and people with disabilities. The Agency will continue to work with refugee community members and women’s committee in Lebanon to prevent abuse and raise awareness on GBV and child protection and aim to address the links between mental health and violence in the community.
In addition, legal assistance and referrals will continue. Given the protection risks children face in Syria from ERW, awareness raising sessions for all UNRWA students will be provided, especially in areas that are potentially heavily contaminated with ERW and where families are spontaneously returning to. In 2022, it is expected that many PRS in Jordan will continue to face a range of protection risks due to their irregular legal status. Four legal clinics will be activated to provide legal consultations, advice and guidance for refugees on issues concerning their legal status, documentation and access to essential services.
Providing adequate environmental health services to mitigate public health risks has become even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNRWA will continue to provide solid waste management and sanitization services in the Palestine refugee camps in the three fields and additional sanitation labourers will be hired to ensure the continued availability of services. In Syria, UNRWA will provide hygiene kits to refugees affected by localized movement restrictions and those spontaneously returning to destroyed camps. In Lebanon, keeping basic environmental services operational in the context of country-wide fuel shortages and electricity outages requires additional fuel to maintain water pumps in 10 refugee camps.
Under strategic priority three, UNRWA will maintain and repair its installations to ensure an effective delivery of services.
In Syria, UNRWA aims to start the rehabilitation of three of its key installations in Yarmouk and Ein el Tal camps to support families who have spontaneously returned through the provision of essential services.
In order to ensure staff safety and security and continuity of UNRWA operations in Lebanon, nine UNRWA premises across the country will be retrofitted for staff use when the commute or access to the main UNRWA compound in Beirut is affected either by COVID-19 mitigation measures, civil unrest, fuel shortages or other operational constraints.
Under this appeal, UNRWA will continue to ensure that the appropriate security measures are implemented across its operations. The Agency will support the coordination and management of the response across the three fields through dedicated functions at its Headquarters (HQ), and will continue to participate in relevant regional coordination mechanisms for the Syria crisis response.
In 2022, UNRWA requires US$ 365 million to continue to respond to the increased humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The funding shortfall faced by UNRWA under all of its funding portals in 2021 jeopardized the continuity of essential services and the provision of emergency assistance. In Syria, in 2021, UNRWA had to reduce the cash transfer value per person and could only provide two rounds of food assistance instead of the three initially planned. The funding shortfall also limited the provision of cash assistance to PRL and vulnerable exGazans in Jordan.
Ensuring predictable and sustainable funding to the UNRWA EA is critical to maintaining the provision of essential emergency assistance and mitigating the impacts of the multiple, overlapping crises faced by Palestine refugees. UNRWA also emphasizes that the success of this appeal relies on full funding of its core programme budget for 2022, to ensure that vital health care, education, protection, and relief services and infrastructure remain available, enabling the provision of emergency assistance. In the event of funding shortfalls, UNRWA may need to review, adjust and/or expand the interventions and populations targeted under this appeal to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees continue to receive vital assistance.