Protracted displacement, socio-economic crises aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, dire humanitarian needs and protection threats continue to affect the Palestine refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
In Syria, the protracted conflict has left 91 per cent of the 438,000 Palestine refugees1 estimated to remain in the country in absolute poverty2 and 40 per cent displaced. Following nearly a decade of extreme hardship, in 2020 living conditions deteriorated further as a result of an economic crisis that has seen a sharp fall in the value of the Syrian Pound against the US Dollar, leading to an increase in prices including of the most basic commodities. The situation in the country has remained tense, with sporadic outbreaks of armed violence reported in particular in the south (Dera’a), exposing refugees to additional risks. In the north of Syria, the conflict has continued albeit at variable intensity throughout the year.
COVID-19 has added to these challenges. As of 10 December 2020, 8,675 confirmed COVID-19 cases including 465 deaths had been reported in Syria.
However, testing capacity across the country remains low and the number of cases is feared to be much higher.
As Government testing does not track the number of cases among Palestine refugees, the extent of its spread in the community cannot be fully determined.
Lockdowns and other restrictive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 have further constrained access to livelihoods and employment in particular for those reliant on informal labour. At the same time, the public health system, already severely impacted by the conflict, is struggling to cope with the pandemic.
The vulnerability of Palestine refugees in Syria is increasing. In July 2020 UNRWA assessed the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on Palestine refugees in Syria, and found that close to 80 per cent had reduced the number of meals or quantity of food consumed, and over 90 per cent were consuming food that was cheaper and/or less nutritious, since March 2020.
The estimated 257,000 Palestine refugees in Lebanon (PRL), including the roughly 27,700 Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country, are also confronted with increased hardship and vulnerability.
The economic and political crisis which started in October 2019 continued in 2020 to erode the value of the Lebanese Pound against the US Dollar, causing rising inflation, price increases and unemployment, pushing more people into poverty.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion at the port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 have placed further strain on the public health system and economy, causing additional loss of livelihoods and jobs. As of 10 December 2020, 140,409 COVID-19 cases, including 1,156 deaths, had been reported in Lebanon. While national data does not identify the number of cases in the refugee community, the Agency has recorded 261 cases amongst its staff as of the end of December 2020.
These multiple overlapping crises have had severe consequences on PRL and PRS alike. Already marginalized and often excluded from formal employment and public services, a majority are unable to provide for their basic needs, raising concerns of mounting food insecurity and the use of negative coping mechanisms for survival.
Long-term displacement and difficult socio-economic conditions, coupled with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, also affect the lives of Palestine refugees in Jordan, in particular the 17,800 PRS and other marginalized groups of Palestinians. As of 10 December 2020, Jordan had reported 250,219 cumulative COVID-19 cases (among them 501 UNRWA staff members), including 3,206 deaths. Lockdowns and other restrictive measures have further reduced access to livelihoods, in particular to daily and informal employment.
PRS who do not hold Jordanian documents are particularly vulnerable, as they lack access to national services and government-led initiatives. They often face legal status issues and protection concerns, which expose them to further risks.
Similar challenges are faced by the 170,485 “exGazans” recorded by UNRWA in Jordan and 156 Palestine refugees from Iraq (PRI), who also do not hold Jordanian citizenship.
In 2021, through its Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal (EA), UNRWA will continue to respond to the humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. This includes those affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria and the wider humanitarian impacts of the COVID-19 emergency on Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in these countries.
Under strategic priority one, the provision of cash assistance will remain a core component of the Agency’s approach. In Syria, UNRWA will continue to provide cash subsidies to some 418,000 Palestine refugees, prioritizing the most vulnerable with a higher value of cash transfer. In 2021, the Agency will provide this group with US$ 27 per person per month, while the remainder will receive US$ 16 per person. In addition, given the increase in prices of basic commodities and the additional hardship created by COVID-19, UNRWA will expand its direct food aid programming, providing food parcels to all 418,000 Palestine refugees (as opposed to distributing in-kind food assistance only to the most vulnerable, as was done in 2019 and 2020) to mitigate food insecurity.
In Lebanon, UNRWA will continue to provide its regular cash assistance to the 27,700 PRS estimated for planning purposes to be in Lebanon. They will receive cash for food assistance of Lebanese Pound (LBP) 100,000 per person per month in line with the World Food Programme’s (WFP) survival minimum expenditure basket cost on the market (SMEB), in addition to multipurpose cash assistance of US$ 100 per family per month. Recognizing the harsh conditions faced by all Palestine refugees in Lebanon as a consequence of the economic crisis and COVID-19,
UNRWA also aims to provide some 257,000 PRL, PRS and other persons eligible for UNRWA assistance with one round of cash assistance at US$ 40 per person.
The planning figure of 257,000 PRL may be reviewed during the year following the introduction of a biometric measurement system for the entire registered population to ensure accurate data on population numbers in country. In 2021, UNRWA will also conduct a survey on the living conditions of Palestine refugees in Lebanon to further identify their specific vulnerabilities and may refine its approach to assistance based on updated information.
Winterization assistance will be provided in Lebanon to PRS and PRL in the Agency’s social safety net programme (SSNP). In 2021 UNRWA expects more families to require this assistance due to the worsening socio-economic situation.
Finally, UNRWA is planning to provide additional support of US$ 150 per family to an estimated 200 families whose breadwinner is affected by COVID-19 and needs treatment or has to quarantine.
In Jordan, 17,800 PRS will continue to receive regular cash assistance using a targeted approach. Refugees categorized as most vulnerable (i.e. PRS not holding Jordanian documents) will receive US$ 40 per person per month, while the remainder will receive US$ 25 per person per month. To mitigate the additional economic hardship caused by COVID-19, the Agency will also provide two rounds of COVID-19 top-up cash assistance of US$ 100 per person per round for all PRS in Jordan. UNRWA will also provide COVID-19 emergency cash assistance to some 138,184 vulnerable ex-Gazans and 156 PRI in Jordan who are facing increased socioeconomic hardship due to the pandemic and do not have access to other forms of assistance. These populations will receive US$ 282.5 per household, disbursed in two rounds of US$141.5 per household per round.
Under strategic priority two, in all fields UNRWA will continue to provide emergency health services, including secondary and tertiary health care. In Syria and in Lebanon, the Agency will also cover the costs of COVID-19 hospitalization for Palestine refugees.
COVID-19 preventive measures will be integrated in all interventions. All frontline health workers will be provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and enhanced hygiene and disinfection protocols will remain in place at health centres. In Syria and Jordan, the Agency will ensure that Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) patients continue to receive their life-saving medications through home deliveries.
In Lebanon, UNRWA will continue to support three isolation centres for COVID-19 patients with mild and moderate symptoms who cannot safely isolate at home.
Ensuring continuity of learning of Palestine refugees, including PRS students, during COVID-19 is another key plank of the appeal. Through its Education in Emergencies (EiE) approach, adjusted to the specific challenges of COVID-19, UNRWA will continue to provide education to Palestine refugee students enrolled in its schools and Technical and Vocational Education and Training Centres (TVET) in Syria,
Lebanon and Jordan. The Agency will remain flexible and will adopt face-to-face, blended or fully remote learning modalities depending on the context and in line with the host country decisions. Where faceto-face learning is provided, UNRWA will ensure that COVID-19 preventive measures, such as the wearing of masks, social distancing and enhanced hygiene, are implemented in schools and TVET centres.
Psychosocial support (PSS) services will continue for school children, including through remote modalities, to support students to cope with the additional stress caused by COVID-19.
In 2021, UNRWA will strive to ensure that protection services remain available to Palestine refugees in Syria,
Lebanon and Jordan even in times of crisis through adapted modalities. This comprises legal aid services, including referrals to specialized partners, assistance to Gender Based Violence (GBV) and child protection cases, and psychosocial support, amongst others. In Syria, special attention will be placed on increasing awareness of the risks of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW).
Environmental health services will be provided in Palestine refugee camps in the three fields, to prevent any additional health hazards which may further aggravate the public health emergency created by COVID-19. Sanitation workers will be provided with PPE and the necessary disinfection and hygiene supplies. UNRWA will also continue to adopt a number of measures to minimize the impact of its response on the environment, in particular in relation to the use and disposal of PPE. This includes, for example, training of staff on the proper and efficient use of PPE and reuse and recycle processes to the extent possible. The Agency will also continue to encourage non-medical staff to use fabric reusable masks, which can be used for three to six months, instead of medical disposable masks that need to be changed every eight hours. Efforts will continue to treat waste through safe and environmentally sound methods and the disposal of final waste in designated sites.
Under strategic priority three, UNRWA will maintain and repair its installations, to ensure an effective delivery of services. The Agency will also 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.
By way of conclusion, the Agency draws attention to the severe funding shortfall faced by UNRWA under all its funding portals in 2021, which limited the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and put at stake the continuity of vital services. Due to limited funding, the Agency had to reduce the value of the cash transfer provided to Palestine refugees in Syria, with negative consequences on their ability to provide for their basic needs. The underfunding also prevented additional cash assistance to be distributed in all fields to mitigate the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
In 2021, UNRWA needs US$ 318 million to support Palestine refugees affected by the protracted conflict, displacement, adverse socio-economic conditions and COVID-19 in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Ensuring predictable and sustainable funding to UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for the Syria Crisis is critical to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees and sustain the provision of essential services.