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UN Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA): Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

(Updated May 2017)

Some 210,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps.

Palestinian refugees represent an estimated ten per cent of the population of Lebanon. They do not enjoy several important rights; for example, they cannot work in as many as 20 professions. Because they are not formally citizens of another state, Palestine refugees are unable to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon. Among the five UNRWA fields, Lebanon has the highest percentage of Palestine refugees in abject poverty, with 2/3 living below the poverty line.  Six out of ten Palestinian refugees in Lebanon under the age of 25 are unemployed.  

Around 53 per cent of the Palestine refugees in Lebanon live in the 12 recognized Palestine refugee camps, all of which suffer from serious problems, including poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing conditions and lack of infrastructure. Three other camps were destroyed during the course of the Lebanese Civil War, while a fourth was evacuated many years ago.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has forced many Palestine refugees from that country, including men, women and children, to flee to Lebanon in search of safety. UNRWA is working to adjust to their numbers and their needs - including for education, health care, shelter and relief. 

Read more about Palestine refugees from Syria in Lebanon and about their vulnerabilities and the challenges they face.

Lebanon UNRWA Camps


Number of Refugees



Burj el-Barajneh


Burj Shemali




Ein el-Hillweh




Mar Elias


Mieh Mieh


Nahr el-Bared*










*Camp was destroyed and is being rebuilt.


Palestine refugees in Lebanon face a number of specific problems:

  • lack of social and civil rights
  • no access to public social services
  • very limited access to public health or educational facilities.

Most refugees rely entirely on UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health and relief and social services.


The refugees’ major concern is the cost of hospitalisation. UNRWA provides basic primary healthcare, but is only able to cover the cost of secondary hospital care and partial tertiary care.

Since these costs are beyond the means of most refugees, they often face a choice between foregoing essential medical treatment and falling deeply into debt.


Palestine refugees are subject to many employment restrictions that have left them highly dependent on UNRWA as their main relief provider and major employer. In 2005, officially registered Palestine refugees born in Lebanon were allowed by law to work in the clerical and administrative sectors for the first time. However, refugees are still unable to work in some professions, for example, as doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers or accountants.

The refugee workforce is substantially underemployed. Although many do find work, this is often seasonal or casual work for low wages and with no social and welfare benefits.

There are distinct signs that this situation is weakening the community’s commitment to education. Many young people see no purpose in continuing their study. Some drop out and find manual work in order to support their families.

Refugee “gatherings”

Many refugees live in “gatherings”, often located near official camps and on private land. While UNRWA provides direct services to registered and non-registered refugees, whether they live inside or outside official camps, the Agency cannot construct shelters or rehabilitate the infrastructure in the “gatherings” as these areas lie outside its official camps. Nor can UNRWA provide services such as solid waste disposal to these communities, because they fall under the responsibility of local municipalities.

Facts and Figures

  • 476,033 registered Palestine refugees
  • 12 camps
  • 65 schools, with 36,817 pupils
  • 1 vocational and technical training centres
  • 27 primary health centres
  • 1 community rehabilitation centre
  • 8 women’s programe centres

Source: UNRWA