Human Rights Group Demands Action on Palestinian Refugees

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - The Lebanese government must take "concrete steps to end all forms of discrimination" against Palestinian refugees, Amnesty International said at a press conference in Beirut on Wednesday.

In a new report entitled "Exiled and Suffering: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon," Amnesty International said it has examined the "wide range of restrictions that continue to impact thousands of Palestinian refugees" -- 60 years after they fled to Lebanon, during the creation of Israel and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948."

In its report, AI specifically mentioned restrictions on property ownership as well as limits on home repair or improvement; discrimination in the labor market, which leads to low wages and poor working conditions; limited access to public secondary education; and limited access to social services.

Some 300,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, more than half of them in 12 official Palestinian refugee camps, Amnesty International said. Population increases over the years have made those camps increasingly overcrowded.

"The Lebanese people and successive Lebanese governments have demonstrated generosity towards Palestinian refugees in their country," admitted Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "However, the continuing discrimination and restrictions which curtail their human rights and relegate them to second class residents should be immediately lifted."

Amnesty International is urging the international community to "make the necessary steps to find a durable solution for Palestinian refugees that respects their human rights," Cox said.

The report comes at a sensitive time: The Bush administration is pressing the Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks that will lead to the imminent creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.

The two sides remain far apart on how to get to that "two-state" point. The three most contentious issues include the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees as well as final borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Israel flatly rejects the idea of having millions of Palestinians (the original refugees and their descendants) return to what is now Israel. Demographically, it would destroy the Jewish State from within.

The Bush administration agrees. It has indicated that a future Palestinian state should absorb the Palestinians refugees.

Amnesty International, in its press conference on Wednesday, said "responsibility for the suffering of Palestinian refugees extends beyond Lebanon and lies also with Israel and the international community."

It said 60 years have passed without the world finding a "durable solution" for the refugees' plight. The Palestinian refugees cannot wait another 60 years in limbo," Amnesty International said.

The group is advocating "technical and financial assistance" for Lebanon and the United Nations refugee agency (UNRWA) so they can "meet refugee needs." AI also wants money to rebuild refugee camps damaged by recent fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamic radicals, who took refuge in the camps.

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