Palestinian youth in Lebanon suffer from two-fold marginalization: Firstly, being refugees who are victims of an international, regional, internal and local political conflict, and, secondly, because they belong to a generation of Arab young people who are overwhelmed by a general feeling of frustration, anxiety and fear of the future due to the overall deteriorating economic, social and security-related conditions that affect their independence and professional life.
Young people make up the biggest part of Palestinian society in Lebanon. The 19-35 age group constitutes 63 percent of total Palestinian refugees, according to the results of the general census of population and housing in Palestinian camps and Palestinians conducted by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in partnership with the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. About 45 percent of them live in camps in overcrowded areas where infrastructure and housing structures are often hazardous. In addition, they are often victims, hostages or participants in internal armed conflicts.
They face many challenges in Lebanon that are passed down over generations:
They complain of a politicized and militarized Lebanese attitude toward them because of their identity. This is exacerbated by the circulation of stereotypes inherited through the memory of the Lebanese Civil War and the controversial role the Palestinians played in it, and the focus of some media on portraying the camps as lawless pockets of insecurity and extremism. Any positive stories about the ability of the Palestinians to adapt and endure despite all the challenges, or even about their normal daily life and peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, are completely disregarded.
Access to basic rights is a major factor, affecting their lives significantly. The ambiguous legal representation of Palestinian identity and restrictions preventing their access to the “legal” job market leads them to look for unsafe work. This compounds their suffering due to a lack of funding for income-generating projects and UNRWA’s contracting education and health services, as well as due to the difficulty of reconciliation with Lebanese communities and the discrimination by Lebanese in employment and social behaviors such as marriage, or personal judgments.
Some 47 percent of males and 80 percent of females suffer from unemployment. Enrollment in higher education institutions is also low. Only 31 percent are able to complete secondary education and 22 percent are able to pursue university studies. Some 57 percent of Palestinians view Palestinian camps as worrying places. The Palestinian political divide has spread to their ranks too. There is pressure from the older Palestinian generation critical of their talents and ambitions. Conspiracy theories promoted by this generation regarding challenging Palestinian traditions, gaining political influence or spreading financial corruption have infiltrated their views. These are additional factors that lead to a feeling of insecurity among young people and to the spread of social problems, such as drug addiction, dependency and reliance on others, or resorting to migration, both legally and illegally, as the sole solution (see Immigration). More than 40 percent of all Palestinian families emigrating from Lebanon are young people, and young men are more likely than young women to emigrate.
This is some of what young Palestinians have to go through daily without having their hopes for change destroyed. Young activists are motivated by a genuine desire to alleviate the harsh conditions in their communities, and the legal and circumstantial restrictions in many professional areas.
They are encouraged by projects aimed at community development and capacity-building carried out by some official institutions, associations and NGOs in the camps and gatherings. They devote their time to social work or volunteer in their free time in various types and levels of community support activities. They undertake many activities and projects, drawing inspiration from their success stories and the concrete impact they have on their communities. They are able to “create something out of nothing,” taking a gamble on their skills, their knowledge of ways to advocate their causes, and their ability to adapt their energies to change through effective communication with each another in Lebanon and abroad. They work to find permanent spaces to meet and discuss problems in a free, informal and safe environment; they want to freely express their views and find out everything that they have in common. Many have chosen to open youth cultural cafés inside and outside the camps. These spaces are a hub of social activity for young people, combining the arts, dialogue, social awareness, political activism and profit generation. This also seems to attract Lebanese youth, who sometimes enrich cultural exchanges.
The future for them, as for all young people, is not entirely bleak. They are working enthusiastically to alleviate the harsh conditions experienced by their society and to free themselves from the legal and circumstantial constraints in many aspects of their lives. This suffering brings them closer to Lebanese youth, whose sympathy for the Palestinian cause is politically unifying. But the prevailing Lebanese sympathy for the Palestinian cause does not necessarily mean sympathy for the improvement of refugee conditions in Lebanon, although there are some changes in Lebanese society that have the potential to increase the space available to Palestinians to lead decent lives. In recent years, the fate of a generation of young Palestinian refugees has converged with Lebanese youth despite the prejudices shaped during the Civil War. The “Lebanese Unified Vision for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” a document ratified by all major Lebanese parties in 2016, represented a legal way toward appropriate policies to address the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in general. In addition, the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee managed to develop a special strategy for Palestinian youth in Lebanon (2019-2025) aiming to show Lebanese and international donors the potential and existing fears of Palestinian youth and the need for and possibility of investing in them and the impact of this investment..
This strategy was formulated by the Dialogue Committee based on a survey of concerns around Palestinian youth issues. It also included interviews, open group talks and various workshops with about 750 young Palestinians between May 2016 and December 2018. It aspires to motivate Palestinian youth to think about their potential and how to incentivize them in the face of obstacles to their ambitions.
The Palestinian youth scene is active through the various types and levels of training offered by the majority of Palestinian, Lebanese and international NGOs working with the Palestinian youth theater, which will enhance many of the tangible skills of young people and provide room for collective learning and meetings. Currently, there is growing interest in investing in Palestinian youth, as reflected in strategies from various international donors and United Nations agencies that have earmarked at least $15 million for youth participation and empowerment projects. They are putting their trust in them to develop and lead initiatives that have a direct impact on their lives and interests.
• The figures in this article are based on: Quantitative data from the 2017 general census of population and housing in Palestinian camps and gatherings in Lebanon, conducted by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in partnership with the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics; the 2012 ILO study.