More than 174,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, authorities announced Thursday, in the first-ever census of its kind for a country where demographics have long been a sensitive subject.
The census was carried out by the government’s Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in 12 Palestinian camps as well as 156 informal “gatherings” across the country.
The result of 174,422 Palestinian refugees is much lower than previous estimates of up to 500,000.
Palestinians began taking refuge in Lebanon with the creation of Israel in 1948, setting up camps that have since transformed into bustling, urban districts.
But their presence has long been a controversial in Lebanon, with many blaming it for the eruption of the bitter war that ravaged the country between 1975 and 1990.
Lebanon has not carried out a census of its own citizens since 1932, making the 2017 count even more remarkable.
It sheds light on the living conditions of 174,422 Palestinian refugees, as well as another 18,601 Palestinians who fled the neighbouring conflict in Syria to camps in Lebanon.
It found the population split evenly between men and women, but nearly half of the total are 24 or younger.
Around 7.2 percent are illiterate, but an impressive 93.6 percent of children aged between three to 13 were enrolled in schools. Around 18 percent of the workforce is unemployed.
Lebanon’s Palestinian camps suffer serious problems, with varying degrees of poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing conditions and lack of infrastructure.
Announcing the results, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon had a “duty” towards Palestinians.
“Over the past decades, the social and humanitarian problems faced by Palestinian refugees have accumulated, and the reality in the camps has become tragic on all levels,” Mr. Hariri said at the Grand Serail.
But he insisted Lebanon would, under no circumstances, accept their naturalization.
Palestinian officials have also consistently rejected permanent resettlement in Lebanon because of their longstanding demand that those who fled or were forced out of their homes with the creation of Israel be granted the right of return.
The census result is much lower than the 469,331 people registered in Lebanon with the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency.
“UNRWA does not have a headcount of Palestinian refugees who are currently residing in Lebanon. What we have as an agency are official registration records for the number of registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon,” spokeswoman Huda Samra told AFP.
“If someone registered with UNRWA in Lebanon decided to live outside Lebanon, they don’t notify us,” she said.