75% of Lebanese and 80% of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are living in poverty.
The Virginia Coalition of Human Rights calls on President Joseph Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the U.S. Congress to continue humanitarian aid to Lebanon, to restore full U.S. funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and to enforce international human rights laws consistently.

Lebanon is suffering a multisectoral crisis, aggravated by the increasing number of refugees, the catastrophic Beirut Port explosion of August 2020, and the Covid pandemic. One in four inhabitants in Lebanon is a refugee—including over a half-million Palestinians—who originally became refugees in 1948, when Israeli militias forced over 800,000 of the indigenous Palestinians from their homeland and blocked their return to Palestine—in contravention to U.N. Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948.

In August 2021, the Biden administration pledged an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon but acknowledged that Lebanon’s leaders must commit to reforming the economy and combating corruption. In 2021, the Biden administration also resumed support for UNRWA, including $67 million directed specifically to programs benefiting Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The Virginia Coalition for Human Rights (VCHR) appreciates the administration’s restoration of support for UNRWA and the United States’ support for Lebanon, an important longtime ally.

Because the Biden administration has pledged to uphold international human rights laws, it must take a clear leadership role in correcting a historic injustice by ending the Palestinian refugees’ 73 years of exile and suffering by committing to action on these key issues:

Reinstate Aid to UNRWA

  • Restore aid to UNRWA of at least $360 million per year. UNRWA provides critical human development and humanitarian services to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, and Syria. UNRWA was established by U.N. Resolution 302 of December 8, 1949 to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees, while affirming the Palestinians’ right to return to Palestine, their homeland, under UN Resolution 194.
  • UNRWA’s basic services include minimal primary and vocational education, primary health care, relief and social services, infrastructure and refugee camp improvement, microfinance, and emergency response. The living conditions in the refugee camps in Lebanon are inhuman with scant electricity, no clean running water, limited medical care, insufficient education for children, scant mental health, treatment for trauma and PTSD, or care for the elderly and disabled.
  • According to UNRWA’s recent report about the Palestine refugees in Lebanon, 73% live below the poverty line and 58% have had to reduce the size and frequency of their meals. 87.3% of the Palestinian refugees from Syria living in Lebanon were already living below the absolute poverty line in 2020, and 11.3% exist in a state of abject poverty. UNRWA’s services are critical to sustain Palestinians’ lives.

Uphold Refugees Right of Return

  • The Palestinians right to return to Palestine is recognized by U.N. Resolution 194, which:

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948 affirms the Palestinians’ right of return, as follows:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Enforce International Human Rights Laws

  • In 2016, the Center for Constitutional Rights concluded that “Prominent human rights advocates and scholars have argued that the killings of Palestinians and their forceful expulsion from mandate Palestine in 1948, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and the violence and discrimination directed at Palestinians by the Israeli government have
    violated a number of human rights protections contained in international human rights law, genocide being among them.” In 2021, Human Rights Watch and B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, condemned Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as apartheid—a crime under international law.

As a coalition representing over 10,000 U.S. citizens concerned about international law and human rights, the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights calls on the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress to uphold international law and human rights by:

  • Fully restoring U.S. humanitarian aid to UNRWA of at least $360 million per year.
  • Provide additional funding to UNRWA to address the long-term detrimental financial impacts to UNRWA created by the termination of U.S. support in 2018.
  • Enforce U.N. Resolution 194 and all U.N. Resolutions consistently as they concern the human rights of the Palestinians under international law.

The Virginia Coalition for Human Rights (VCHR) represents over 10,000 Virginians. VCHR is a coalition of 19 organizations working for Palestinian human rights and self-determination. We advocate for universal human rights, nonviolence, free speech, and academic freedom. We oppose discrimination domestically and internationally.