Around 455,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps.
Palestine refugees make up an estimated ten per cent of Lebanon, a small country which is now densely populated.
Figures as of 31 December 2010
A comprehensive UNRWA/American University of Beirut report released on that same date, December 31, 2010, shows this number to be a lie:
At present there are in excess of 425,640 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon [as of January 2010 - EoZ]. However, according to our survey figures, it is estimated that only between 260,000 and 280,000 are residents in the country, with a margin of error of ±5%. 62% of refugees live in the 12 camps across Lebanon, and the remaining 38% live in gatherings mostly in the vicinity of these camps. Resident refugees are mostly concentrated in the South (55% in Saida and Tyre), then in the Central Lebanon Area (22%), followed by the North (19%) and the Bekaa (4%). Some refugees were “naturalized” and have been granted Lebanese citizenship. Some 200,000 Palestinian refugees have left Lebanon, many to Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries and Germany (Dorai 2003), especially after the 1982 Israeli invasion and the “War of the Camps,” fleeing the conflict but also rampant social exclusion in more recent years.
Yet as of January 1, 2012, UNRWA is still publicly claiming over 465,798 "Registered Persons in Lebanon" eligible to receive UNRWA services, when in fact about 200,000 of them are simply not there. The research report's results have not impacted the fabricated UNRWA claims in the least, even after a full year.
Why is UNRWA still telling the world that there are 200,000 more Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon than there really are? Even if they have no way to know how many of the "refugees" are illusory, and if there are "officially" 465,000 people receiving services, shouldn't UNRWA at least acknowledge the discrepancy so that donors have a clearer idea of what they are funding?
One possible reason is that exact reason: if UNRWA would be more forthcoming about the discrepancy then it may lose funding which is based on the number of people under UNRWA care.
But there is another political dimension to the issue. Right now, the biggest obstacle to having Lebanese Palestinians become citizens is the fear of a huge influx of Sunni Muslims upsetting the (mostly mythical nowadays) balance between Sunnis, Shiites and Christians in Lebanon.
Lebanon's population is estimated at about 4.2 million. The idea of 465,000 additional Sunnis - which would represent 11% of Lebanon's current population - is anathema to the Christians and Shiites. But if there are in reality as few as 260,000 Palestinian Lebanese who become naturalized, that would mean that only about 6% of the resultant Lebanese would be Palestinian - a far more manageable number that it is more possible that Lebanese could imagine absorbing without much trouble.
In other words, it is in the interests of Palestinian Arab leaders to inflate the numbers to increase their apparent power. It is in UNRWA's interest to inflate the numbers in order to receive more funding and keep the refugee situation alive. It is in the Lebanese Christian and Shiite leadership's interest to inflate the numbers in order to create fear among their ranks against "tawteen", or Palestinian Arab naturalization. As the BAU report notes:
Tawteen is the scarecrow that has been used within sections of Lebanese society to generate public phobia against according civil rights to Palestinians. Indeed through editorials in key Lebanese newspapers (al-Nahar, al-Akhbar, al-Safir, and L’Orient-Le Jour), Lebanese political groups accuse each other of promoting Tawteen, an act tantamount to treason. For instance, the front-page headline of the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, read on 2 July 2007 “The program of al-Barid Camp reconstruction is the beginning of Tawteen”. Others (including religious authorities) consider the mere talk of the Palestinians’ right to work as being the first step towards Tawteen. Any debate about civil and economic rights starts by affirming that the objective should not be Tawteen...
So because of this confluence of factors, the truth is being buried.
And the people being hurt are, as always, the real Lebanese Palestinians, who would love to become full citizens of the state that they were born in but which stlll considers them "foreigners" - for their own good, of course. Yet no one ever asked them what they would prefer.
It is unconscionable that they should continue to be used as pawns by their own leadership, by the Lebanese leaders and seemingly by UNRWA itself - the agency created to help them - in order to keep them stateless and helpless.
In the early 1960s, it was discovered that over 100,000 Jordanian refugees receiving aid were also non-existent. The United States insisted that UNRWA take them off of their rolls, but UNRWA was not successful because the corruption that caused the problem was so widespread.
If there are 200,000 nonexistent "refugees" on UNRWA rolls in Lebanon alone, today, who knows how many more there are in Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza?