JOUSOUR ARTICLE

Youth Strategy for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon 2019 – 2025

Youth Strategy for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon 2019 – 2025
With the decline of local, Arab and international interest in the Palestinian cause; the bleak outlook for a peaceful settlement; the ongoing Lebanese rhetoric that portrays refugees as an economic and social burden; the high poverty, illiteracy and school dropout rates, and the spread of some social ills in the refugee camps; the question about the role of Palestinian youth arises. What can they do, or what can be done for them, to change this reality and realize their ambitions for a better future?
Youth, in the 14–35 year-old age category, constitute the largest demographic group in the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon. They face different challenges, in particular, poor prospects for a dignified life: poor and overcrowded living conditions with crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated housing, insecurity due to recurrent armed conflicts, difficult working conditions and a sense of marginalization due to restrictions on their access to the job market and the ambiguous legal status of Palestinian identity. In addition, they have to deal with issues related to education and health, to the scarcity of funding for income-generating projects, the decline of confidence in the UNRWA and the NGOs, the divisions among the youth themselves and the reconciliation with Lebanese communities….
As local and international stakeholders are increasingly focused on Palestinian youth with the aim of empowering them to meet these challenges, it has become clear that existing strategies and programs are not always compatible with each other and therefore risk overlapping, which may hamper the optimization of available resources and achieving the greatest impact possible. Therefore, the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) has deemed necessary a joint action plan under one umbrella. Over the course of more than two years, the committee has been able to explore the situation and identify the aspirations of Palestinian youth in Lebanon. It has succeeded in getting approval for the “Strategy for the Advancement of Palestinian Youth in Lebanon,” to be implemented between 2019 and 2025, enabling stakeholders and donors to coordinate their work and investments by engaging the young in these projects.

The Youth Scene
The importance of the strategy proposed by the LPDC stems from the fact that it was inspired by the ideas of Palestinian youth and was born out of hundreds of hours of discussions with them in the camps and gatherings from the north to the south of Lebanon. Since 2016, the committee has carried out extensive communication and outreach activities on the situation of Palestinian youth in Lebanon. All have found that Palestinian youth are generally active, initiating many activities and projects, and have a diverse experience in forming institutional networks and groups. But these initiatives are often short-lived for three main reasons: Political differences in the affiliations or views among the young, often leading to internal divisions; the difficulty of sustaining momentum, interest and enthusiasm in the projects they volunteer in; and difficulties in securing sustainable external funding.
The committee also found, by talking to young Palestinian people through “discussion spaces,” that they have many ambitions and put forward a wide range of multidimensional projects, including the fields of arts, sports, social cohesion, and environmental, social and economic goals. Also many of them have the potential and the desire to instill hope in their societies and empower other young people. They have a certain level of strategic thinking about the society’s attitude toward the steps they take, as well as intentions of community participation, deep awareness and understanding of the complex realities of their societies and the challenges they face.
The active youth scene is also manifested through the various types and levels of training offered by the majority of Palestinian, Lebanese and international NGOs active among the Palestinian youth. This has strengthened many of their soft skills, provided room for group learning and meetings, and added a growing sense of appreciation for self-development. But this has fallen short of achieving a sustainable impact, as: (1) opportunities for applying acquired  skills are very rare; (2) programs are inherently short-term in nature; (3) repetition and overlapping themes limit creativity and imagination, and weaken the outcome of youth-led initiatives; and (4) programs often attract specific groups of already well known young activists.
The committee also conducted a comprehensive survey of the actors working with Palestinian youth in Lebanon, and found more than 95 groups, initiatives, networks, organizations and media outlets led by young people; about 30 of them having a physical working space. More than 80 Palestinian and Lebanese organizations target youth in part or in whole. All major Palestinian political factions also have active youth organizations. Some 18 international NGOs also target and fund Palestinian youth, and some 20 United Nations donors and agencies have active Palestinian youth programs.
The Dialogue Committee found that the attributes of Palestinian youth provide a rich ground for successful participatory action and contribute to motivating stakeholders to trust and invest in the capacities and skills of these young people. After a series of meetings with various official Lebanese and Palestinian actors, donors, international organizations and Palestinian and Lebanese NGOs, the Dialogue Committee prepared a draft “Strategy for the Advancement of Palestinian Youth”, announced in February 2019. It aims to act as an umbrella for the investments of actors working with Palestinian youth and for joint work with them, on the one hand providing donors with views regarding the situation on the ground, the needs and potential investments in Palestinian youth in Lebanon and the impact of such investments, on the other, encouraging young people to think strategically and deeply, both individually and collectively, by harnessing their capacities and the challenges they may face. It also aims to enable Lebanese stakeholders to take into account the set of possibilities and concerns expressed by Palestinian youth. Thus, it seeks to incorporate comprehensive visions and open the way for broad cooperation, focusing on specific directions to lay the groundwork for tangible action.
Main Objectives
One of the main objectives of this strategy is for all Palestinian youth residing in Lebanon to have the opportunities, skills, resources and support networks that will enable them to improve their living conditions and engage in the development of their communities, as well as influence the decisions that have an impact on them and their future. In addition, this strategy offers opportunities for young people from different age groups to make a positive impact on each other, encouraging and directing the exchange of ideas among them. The committee actively seeks to involve young people between the ages of 16 and 35 in this strategy. A broad range of ages has been chosen given the established and recognized marginalization of this group, and its potential and capabilities.
Through its strategy, the committee aspires to play an effective role by providing an in-depth understanding of the current situation of Palestinian youth in Lebanon, in addition to considering what the different stakeholders are doing in this area. Its aim is to promote the empowerment of Palestinian youth by providing them with a document issued by a Lebanese official body that has the support of different parties and that they can reference in their future projects aiming for change.
Strategy Principles
The Dialogue Committee’s “Strategy for the Advancement of Palestinian Youth” is based on the following principles:
The inclusion of all Palestinian young people from diverse backgrounds, regardless of their legal status.
Gender equality in all activities and work areas.
Reconciliation between Palestinian youth from different backgrounds, as well as between Palestinian and Lebanese young people.
Enhancement of cooperation and communication between Palestinian and Lebanese young people.
Effective empowerment and investment in youth leadership and innovation.
Rethinking the allocation and management of funds, and unifying efforts.
Channeling young people’s energy into work to make a living and make a difference.
Increasing learning impact and opportunities, and engage all stakeholders in mutual learning.

Action Plan
The strategy identified five key areas of action:
Financial sustainability: economically independent Palestinian youth. The strategy aims to mitigate marginalization, increase Palestinian youth’s access to employment, and promote the creation of new job opportunities, in parallel with ongoing work at political and legal levels.
Changing the narratives: reformulate the Palestinian youth narrative in Lebanon, clarify a contemporary identity for young Palestinian refugees, explore different perspectives through individual and collective stories, and promote the dissemination of cultural production that reflects the new narratives.
Urban environment conditions: enhance the role of youth in improving the conditions of the camps and gatherings. By finding legal formulas that allow for different forms of ownership and promoting secure tenure for Palestinians under existing laws, improving housing conditions and urban services in the camps and gatherings, and implementing youth-led community work to serve public spaces.
Health care: promote health services delivery and sustainability, improve mental health through existing community structures, promote and support social relations, and encourage young people to specialize professionally in the health sector.
Education: achieve a comprehensive and sustainable solution to meet the challenges on the educational scene by strengthening the management and sustainability of the Palestinian youth education sector, enrolling a greater proportion of it in formal education, and enhancing the quality and opportunities of a free education.
Framework
The strategy proposes a framework by structuring and organizing the contributions of various actors in this area, with a view to ensuring the adoption of the five areas of work and following up on their implementation. It consists of:
–           A steering committee for the strategy. The Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee includes the Embassy of Palestine represented by the Higher Council for Youth and Sports and UNRWA represented by the Youth Unit (UNRWA Youth). Mission: Oversee the development of a framework that ensures the development and approval of the strategy by the main stakeholders, and ensure the continuation of open talks with the Palestinian factions to apprise them of the strategy and the stages of development, and receive feedback regarding them.
Platform for stakeholders working with youth. To include donors, relevant international organizations and Palestinian and Lebanese local NGOs with direct contact with Palestinian youth, ministries and local authorities that play a key role in coordination in various areas of work. Functions: Effective coordination, partnership-based program design and collaboration to develop a common agenda, forming a co-financing group and developing an evidence-based assessment method.
Palestinian Youth Forum to follow up on the development of the strategy and make its contributions to it, and participate in making changes to the goals and plans of action at each stage. Involving young people from all regions and from different backgrounds, and putting them in contact directly with the actors, and give them an opportunity to influence decisions about projects that target them.
The strategy coordination team to organize the work of the youth Platform and a follow-up forum for youth, and to ensure continuous communication between them.
Financing the Strategy
The strategy proposes three ideas for financing options, with the potential of combining them:
1.         Financing strategic components rather than a series of specific projects. Harmonization of donors and of financing, and the development of comprehensive, detailed and long-term action plans.
2.         Establishing a co-financing fund with contributions from governments and major donors from other sources such as: Business sectors, and public and private sector-funded programs.
3.         Developing a decentralized accumulated funding model for youth initiatives to implement projects proposed and led by a youth network.
The committee has noted that at least USD 15 million is available annually to fund projects targeting youth directly and indirectly, aimed at promoting youth participation and empowerment. There is growing interest from donors in investing in youth, as reflected in strategies from various international donors and United Nations agencies. However, as expressed at the meeting of donors with United Nations agencies and the Dialogue Committee in 2016, donors find a discrepancy between the objectives set by funding and the actual impact of how donor funds are spent, given that much can be achieved with such potential factors and resources. This requires comprehensive programming for sustainable and participatory development between donors and beneficiaries, support for innovations and the adoption of commercially profitable enterprises. This is particularly promising because these granted funds encourage the participation and empowerment of young people. The Dialogue Committee hopes that this strategy will lead to strengthening empowerment and participation and the promotion of Palestinian youth in order to shape a better future that lives up to their aspirations.
To view the draft edition of the Youth Strategy for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon 2019 – 2025: Click here.