Lebanon urged to treat Palestinian refugees better

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BEIRUT, Oct 17 (Reuters) The Lebanese government must do more to alleviate the miserable conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who are treated like ''second-class citizens'', Amnesty International said today.

In a report ''Exiled and Suffering: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon'', the London-based human rights group said the refugees face discrimination in education, jobs, health care and housing.

More than half the 400,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since their families fled their homes after the creation of Israel in 1948 live in 12 cramped, squalid and often unsanitary camps scattered across the country.

''The continuing restrictions on Palestinian refugees, which effectively render them the status of second-class residents, continue to be little short of a scandal and they should be lifted without further procrastination or delay,'' Amnesty said.

The plight of the refugees demonstrated a failure on the part of successive governments in Israel, Lebanon, other regional states and the international community, it added.

Lebanese officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Amnesty also urged donors to respond to the Lebanese government's call for 382 million dollars to rebuild Nahr al-Bared camp after a 15-week battle between the army and Islamist militants destroyed much of it and displaced most of its refugees earlier this year.

ARMED FACTIONS Neil Sammonds, an Amnesty researcher on Lebanon, acknowledged efforts by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government to tackle the refugee issue through employment programmes and Lebanese-Palestinian committees.

''The Lebanese government has officially said the conditions are unbearable, they've officially said yes something has to be done about this and we recognise that the Siniora-led government is doing much more than any other government for this,'' he said.

Restrictions on Palestinians in Lebanon were originally designed to deter them from settling permanently in a country which feared the presence of the mainly Sunni Muslim refugees would upset its delicate internal sectarian balance.

Palestinian guerrillas played a major role in Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. Armed factions still roam refugee camps which have long been off limits to Lebanese security forces.

Despite a fourfold rise in the refugee population, the land area allocated to the camps has barely changed.

''The residents have been forbidden by law from bringing building materials into some camps, preventing the repair, expansion or improvement of homes,'' the report said.

''Those who have defied the law have faced fines and imprisonment as well as demolition of the new structures.'' The report urged Lebanon to make it easier for Palestinian refugees to find employment. Refugees were barred from about 70 job categories until 2005, when the Labour Ministry cut the number to 20. Its decision has not been passed into law.

Reuters PD GC1752

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