On this page you can download our report Lebanon: Stateless Palestinians, produced by Asylos and kindly funded by the Trust for London. 

Our report combines relevant and timely publicly available material with new information generated through interviews or written correspondence with five individuals with authoritative knowledge on the topic. Together these sources paint a troubling picture of the situation for stateless and undocumented Palestinians in Lebanon. Sources highlight the various forms and layers of discrimination perpetrated by state actors as well as within communities and families. This includes their rights as stateless persons, which are set out in international agreements; notably, Lebanon is not a party to international treaties that define and require states to provide protection to refugees who are stateless or to stateless persons, in addition to lacking domestic legislation that ensures protection for those who are stateless, at risk of becoming stateless, or vulnerable to outcomes similar to those of stateless persons.

We hope that the report will help fill the gap in the COI literature and thus contribute to a more transparent and informed debate about the topic.

Access the Report

Lebanon: Stateless Palestinians
March 2023

"The Palestinian report is a good example of how valuable COI can be; with a multi lingual team of researchers they were able to look at sources in languages other than English which if a practitioner is conducting a google search and looking for country sources then they are limited to sources in English which in a lot of countries is only a small fraction of what is actually available." - David Neale, Legal Researcher at Garden Court Chambers

The term "statelessness" may take on different meanings in different national settings or languages due to the difficulty of translating it. For instance, local vocabulary that doesn't seem to be related to the idea of statelessness as defined by the 1954 Convention may be used to characterise populations that are experiencing statelessness in various geographic locations. Our methodology for this research was influenced by the lack of a common language to describe the status of statelessness. In particular, the research highlights the various legal statuses that exist among Palestinians in Lebanon and the terms used to describe those statuses, as well as the (lack of) definition of statelessness in Lebanese law, the various Arabic terms that may be used to describe stateless groups in Lebanon, and who they refer to, these are described in the first section.

Whilst acknowledging the complexities that exist in defining the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon, and the varying and inconsistent ways in which the COI refers to this group, Asylos has chosen to refer to Palestinians in Lebanon as “stateless Palestinians”, as well as - where useful - using some of the terms outlined below, which refer to specific sub-groups of Palestinians in Lebanon. Where Asylos uses the term “stateless Palestinians”, this is used in a general sense, and can potentially encompass, “Palestine refugees”, “Palestinian refugees”, “non-registered Palestinian refugees”, “non-ID refugees” and “Palestinian refugees from Syria”. 

"The lack of information and poorly defined processes can act as a huge barrier in front of vulnerable people; however, it can be enhanced through strengthening country of origin information. I’m happy to be a member of the steering committee with Asylos to produce the first step-by-step method for thematic COI about stateless Palestinians in Lebanon. As a Palestinian refugee, I’m thrilled to have contributed with my research and lived experience in shaping the report; hoping it will benefit people of my community" - Walaa Kayyal, member of Asylos Statelessness Project Steering Committee

Do you have any comments or feedback on our report? We would love to hear it! Send us an email at [email protected]

The report is part of a series of strategic research reports that address critical gaps in Country of Origin Information.

The main findings of the report have been summarised as follows, presented under the relevant research headings found in the report:

History of Palestinians’ exile to Lebanon resulting in various legal statuses for Palestinians

  • There are four different groups of Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon, described as below:   

1) ‘Registered’ refugees (‘Palestine refugees’), who are registered with both UNRWA and the Lebanese authorities;

2) ‘Non-Registered’ Palestinian refugees, who are registered with the Lebanese authorities but not with UNRWA;

3) Non-identified (‘non-ID’) Palestinian refugees, who are registered neither with UNRWA nor with the Lebanese authorities (some may, however, be registered with UNRWA in another ‘field’ of operation); and

4) Palestine refugees from Syria, who have arrived in Lebanon since 2011, who are registered with UNRWA and GAPAR in Syria, but not with the DPRA.

 --- Ultimately only those registered with DPRA – i.e. Palestinians falling in the first two groups – are considered legally resident, subject to the laws pertaining to foreigners in matters such as employment, acquisition of property, and taxation, often based on condition of reciprocity.”

History of UNRWA and its mandate  

  • The UN established UNRWA in 1949, with a mandate to assist Palestine refugees, and the Agency began operations on 1 May 1950.
  • UNRWA is primarily a humanitarian relief institution and provides service in the areas of basic education, primary health care and mental health care, relief and social services, microcredit, and emergency assistance, including in situations of armed conflict, to millions of registered Palestine refugees located within its five fields of operations (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza). 
  • UNRWA does not have a mandate to seek durable solutions for Palestine refugees.
  • Registration with UNRWA does not confer any legal status, nor does it operate as a form of personal identification, proof of nationality or lack thereof
  • UNRWA does not manage refugee camps and is not responsible for protecting the physical safety or security of Palestine refugees or maintaining law and order. 

Assistance provided by UNRWA 

  • The main services provided by UNRWA are education, primary healthcare, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, microcredit, and emergency aid, including in times of armed conflict.
  • The extent to which UNRWA can meet the needs of Palestine refugees relies on its financial status, which is mostly reliant on voluntary contributions from States. The Agency's financial situation, which had been slowly becoming worse over the previous few years, became serious in 2020.

Legal and Policy Frameworks and their implementation 

  • Lebanese law lacks a definition of a “stateless person”. There are no records for stateless persons who are simply non-existent for the State – except for those known as ‘Qayd Dars’ (under study) who have a specific register as foreigners of unidentified nationality.
  • Lebanon is not party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness or the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
  • Despite not being party to the Refugee or Statelessness Conventions, Lebanon is a party to core international human rights treaties and conventions that confer on the state certain obligations in relation to the right to a nationality and non-discrimination. These include, among others, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
  • Under the current Constitution, Palestinians are unable to naturalise in Lebanon.
  • Lebanese citizenship generally can only be passed down from the father.
  • There is a one-year duration to register a child in order to make sure they are born with a nationality. If it is missed, the child becomes stateless, and you have to retain nationality again through court.


  • About 3,000 Palestinian refugees have no documentation. They are neither registered by UNRWA nor the Lebanese authorities.
  • Palestinians registered by Lebanon from the ‘67 group’ (displaced as a result of the 1967 and subsequent hostilities), who are not registered with UNRWA may be able to receive a laissez-passer. (valid for one year)
  • Sources agree that Palestinians face issues in accessing civil registration because of the high cost of the process, the lack of required documents, and lack of residency in some cases.
  • According to UNICEF’s Baseline Study (2016), UNRWA’s registration of children under five years of age in the PRL [Palestinian refugees in Lebanon] cohort was at 99.5 per cent. For PRS [Palestinian refugees from Syria in Lebanon], almost 2,900 new births were recorded by UNRWA between 2011 and 2018. By conservative estimation, at least one third of parents were unable to finalise the birth registration process in Lebanon due to its costs or lack of a valid legal status or requisite documentation.
  • It is also impossible to register marriage contracts if one of the spouses is a non-ID, and thus their children are denied the right to be registered with official departments.

Freedom of movement

  • According to UNRWA, there are an estimated 4,000 Non-ID Palestinians in Lebanon. These are Palestinians who began to arrive in Lebanon in the 1960s and do not hold formal valid identification documents recognized by the Lebanese government. They are not registered as Palestine refugees with UNRWA in Lebanon and are not recognized by the Lebanese government as they do not have valid legal status in the country.
  • Freedom of movement remains a concern for many Palestinian refugees, especially PRS and non-IDs who often lack residency and official documentation. Many are apprehensive about being stopped at checkpoints and given departure orders due to lack of legal status; accordingly, they limit their own movements. 
  • Without documentation and legal status, non-registered Palestinians face restrictions on movement, risk arrest or detention, and encounter obstacles completing civil registration procedures.
  • UNRWA reported in a 2020 Protection brief, that “A survey conducted during the first half of 2020 indicated that 34 percent of PRS in Lebanon do not hold valid residency documents. Out of this group, 79 per cent reported that their mobility was constrained”.  

Access to healthcare 

  • As foreigners (the legal status that Lebanese authorities ascribe to Palestinian refugees), Palestinian refugees do not have access to Lebanese public health services and rely mainly on UNRWA for health services, in addition to assistance from charities unless they can afford private health insurance. 
  • UNRWA health services comprise primary health care that includes preventive interventions and general medical consultations. UNRWA is not able to provide medications for chronic conditions. As a consequence, UNRWA is not able to provide comprehensive medical support to persons with disabilities with chronic medical needs. There are alarming reports on Palestine refugees who are forgoing essential treatments for chronic diseases due to their inaccessibility and lack of health insurance coverage.
  • Many Palestine refugee families are no longer able to afford secondary health care. Some are skipping lifesaving treatment to avoid accumulating debts.
  • PRL who have the right to work are required to contribute to the Lebanese  National Social Security Fund (NSFF) but are “still excluded from family allowance and the sickness and maternity fund”.

Child protection and access to education

  • Palestinian children largely fall outside the scope of the law. For children residing in camps, their largely “autonomous” nature, coupled with the inability of the Lebanese government to be actively present/engaged with them, renders it increasingly difficult for policies and legal frameworks to extend to stateless, migrant and refugee children.
  • Palestinian refugee children, especially those living in the camps, do not benefit from the Juvenile Protection Law or the Law on Domestic Violence. Article 1 (Paragraph 1) of Law 422/2002 on the protection of minors in contact with the law or those at risk deprives refugee children from its legal protection and jurisdiction to intervene for their protection due to the absence of due process inside the camps, where children are subjected to several forms of violations.
  • The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs reported in April 2022 that “Child labour is also a phenomenon that is becoming more frequent as households struggle to cope with the worsening economic situation. One in four PRL [Palestinian refugees in Lebanon] households reported children to be working or supporting the household. This has a huge impact on children dropping out of school and exposes them to serious physical harm as they risk their lives. In addition, the risk of child marriage is on the rise, namely for girls. According to the MSNA 2021 data, child marriage rates for PRL revolve around 0.72 per cent, and 1 per cent for girls; although these figures are likely underreported [UN Women, Gender and Social Inclusion Analysis based on MSNA, December 2021 data].”
  • According to UNRWA, “While in principle Palestine refugees have equal access to public education in Lebanon, in practice they only do so where there is space in the relevant public school, with priority given to Lebanese citizens”. 
  • UNRWA also reports that “Due to the socio-economic crisis, an increasing number of families are struggling to cover the costs of fuel and transportation to ensure their children regularly attend school”.

Access to labour market, means of basic subsistence

  • More than 479,000 Palestinians are considered refugees under international law, yet due to their continued classification and treatment as foreigners by the Lebanese government, they are only able to work in low-wage, unprotected professions in the informal economy.
  • Even though the vast majority of Palestinians residents were born in Lebanon, they are still considered foreigners and are required to obtain a work permit prior to employment in specific jobs, which is a lengthy administrative process.
  • According to the amended Labour Law 129/2010, PRL employees can obtain this work permit free of charge but it is bound to the will of their employer and requires a cumbersome administrative procedure but because the law was not fully implemented Palestinians remained excluded from working in 39 high-wage professions outside the camps, including law, medicine, and engineering.
  • Social security benefits are almost nonexistent, even for the small number of Palestinian refugees working in the formal sector. 
  • OHCHR stated that “Over 28,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria are in particularly vulnerable situations, as a considerable number of them are unable to regularise their status in Lebanon and hence the vast majority of them – 92 percent – heavily rely on cash assistance provided by UNRWA as the main source of income. As for many other humanitarian assistance programs, however, this cash assistance program of $100 per family per month is donor-dependent and due to be withdrawn at the end of 2021, leaving the beneficiary families with very little alternative sources of income.” 

Access to land, housing and shelter 

  • As a result of the lack of legal status and records, stateless persons cannot own property and register their homes and cars, and they cannot inherit property.
  • Since the adoption of Law 296/2001, Palestine refugees are prevented from legally acquiring and transferring immovable property in Lebanon. This has led to insecurity of tenure as many have been forced into informal rental arrangements and have been deprived of the benefits of property ownership. 
  • While all Palestinian refugees are subject to difficult living conditions, non-ID refugees face the most difficult circumstances. 
  • Deprived of the right to own any real estate, almost a half of Palestinian refugees (45 percent) live in one of the 12 official Palestine refugee camps, and the rest reside in the so-called “gatherings” near the camps or informal housing. In all of these settings, Palestinian refugees are often subjected to overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, with minimal access to infrastructure and basic services.

Situation in camps

  • In a peer-reviewed article about Palestinians’ access to the labour market in Lebanon published in 2022, academics Samih Eloubeidi and Prof. Tina Kempin wrote “Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in poverty, with higher poverty rates inside the camps. Over half of Palestinians in Lebanon live in one of the twelve camps scattered across the country. The camps are described as made of concrete blocks with corrugated roofs, narrow alleys with sewage and water pipes and covered with a maze of makeshift electric wires”.  
  • The Badil Resource Center and European Network on Statelessness report that “The Lebanese Government does not allow construction of new refugee camps, which has led to serious overcrowding and poor conditions in existing camps”. Academics Samih Eloubeidi and Prof. Tina Kempin described that “The confinement to camps, restricted freedom of movement, and little access to educational and income-generating opportunities over a span of decades and generations have left the community in destitute condition”.
  • 2021 saw increased electricity cut-offs and the national fuel crisis, which, as reported by UNRWA, “impacted on the daily operations of water plants in the camps, resulting in reduced water supplies to camp residents”.  In addition, a collective of NGOs working with Palestinians in Lebanon reports that “waste collection sites are located in proximity to homes leading to an unhealthy environment and causing lung, chronic, and critical ailments”. 
  • Legal scholars Dr. Francesca Albanese and Prof Lex Takkenberg wrote that “The Lebanese government does not exercise its authority or enforce its laws in the camps. The lack of an official authority responsible for public services and security creates an unsafe and insecure environment, with various types of violence and few avenues for redress”.

State attitudes, discrimination by state authorities and availability of state protection 

  • According to UNRWA, Public statements of anti-refugee sentiment were issued “by several prominent Lebanese figures. While these remarks were mainly directed at Syrian refugees, the Maronite Patriarch called for the deportation and resettlement of Palestinian refugees alongside Syrians. Some Palestinian refugees expressed their concern at such rhetoric, but UNRWA interlocutors noted it was tied to long-standing social discrimination against Palestinians in Lebanon, rather than being a new phenomenon”.
  • The news agency Aljazeera reported that “Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces party [one of the parties that hold seats in Parliament], who is known for making racist statements, implied that Palestinian and Syrian refugees would be spreaders of COVID-19 in Lebanon and argued that the refugee communities posed a threat to public health”.

Access to justice, security and state protection 

  • “Stateless persons have no national or local institutions or offices they can refer to for counselling, information on procedures to end statelessness or to access rights. They fear to approach the authorities to complain in case they were the victim of abuse, attack, theft or any violation”. (The Collective for Research & Training on Development- Action, The Nationality Campaign, Ruwad alHoukouk Frontiers Rights et al)
  • As reported by interviewee Walaa Kayyal, usually, stateless individuals [including Palestinians] are afraid to approach any government facility or to talk to any representative of the army because they cannot show any papers and can therefore be arrested and detained. So stateless persons do not approach any government facility or any person wearing a governmental uniform, whether in the army or in the general secretariat or in any security forces branch.
  • OCHA reports that, “while Palestinian women subject to personal violence can obtain a variety of protective orders issued by the Lebanese courts, in practice the limited control exercised by Lebanese authorities within Palestinian refugee camps makes it impossible to ensure that such orders are upheld for women residing within camps”. 
  • “PRS not holding legal residency in Lebanon are unable to seek legal divorce due to the legal residency of one of the two parties being a prerequisite for the court. They are also in general unlikely to approach authorities, including to seek justice, due to fear of detention and deportation, which puts PRS women at heightened risk of continuous abuse”. (UNRWA) 
  • “Legally, Palestinians are punished just as severely and using the same legal process as Lebanese citizens. In practice, Palestinians are discriminated against in the judicial process and Palestinians living in the refugee camps have poor access to the Lebanese justice system”. (Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Societal discrimination 

  • UNRWA reported that “With increased hostility towards Syrian refugees in the media and in some communities, PRS, in particular, report being worried about discrimination and potential deportation.”
  • Discrimination has contributed to a large body of mental health needs amongst PRS and Palestine refugees in Lebanon (PRL).
  • “PRL households will more often report that one of the obstacles to finding work is the fact that employers prefer hiring other nationals”. (OCHA)
  • The perception that the Lebanese government does not care about Palestinian refugees was supported by the participants in a study conducted by academics Eloubeidi and Reuter. When asked about participants' experiences in the interviews, “almost all of the participants noted that discrimination, hatred, and anti-Muslim or anti-Sunni bias affect the way in which the Lebanese government deals with Palestinian refugees”.
  • Most interviewees in the study also linked employment restrictions and inability to find jobs in Lebanon to being a strategy to prevent Palestinian refugees' integration into society, despite being in the country for over 70 years.
  • The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, citing various sources, conclude that “Palestinians are discriminated against in the labour market because of social stigmas and legislation [...]. Palestinians are associated with radical groups and are denounced in the media as criminals [...]. Provocative opinions about Palestinians are widespread in Lebanon, according to a source, and are hardly censored or criticised by the government”.

Particular hardships faced by specific profiles of stateless Palestinians

  • Marginalised communities (the LGBTIQ+ community, women and girls, migrant domestic workers, refugees and undocumented residents in Lebanon, people with disabilities, among others) in Lebanon have been disproportionately affected by the 2019 economic collapse and political deadlock, exacerbated by systemic oppression and failure of state institutions.
  • Women and girls are facing high levels of violence due to the socio-economic crisis, forcing them to spend more time together in crowded homes.
  • Reporting of sexual violence or exploitation against children continues to be rare due to children not knowing how to report it, fear of retaliation, taboos around mentioning it, and a lack of trust in the system.
  • The protection context in Lebanon deteriorated due to a fuel crisis and electricity cuts, leading to increased tensions and shootings, stabbings and armed clashes. [...] and child protection GBV violations increased. Mental health needs remained high.
  • Stateless children are at risk of being trafficked, since they have no legal documents and no protection. This risk becomes greater for institutionalised stateless children, due to the lack of control on the institutions and their compliance with the obligation to register the children.
  • Physical violence was also highlighted as a key concern for children with disabilities.
  • No information was found in the sources consulted for this report about additional penalty e.g. deportation for stateless Palestinians who committed offences, in Lebanon or outside of Lebanon.

Political participation and protests

  • The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, citing various sources, reports that foreigners can join political parties in Lebanon, but must have a Lebanese founder and director. One of their sources states that Palestinians stay as neutral as possible in Lebanese political issues for fear of suspicions regarding their involvement in Lebanese affairs.
  • No information was found in the sources consulted for this report about stateless Palestinians experiencing any forms of reprisals as a result of gathering/protesting/gaining a public profile for speaking on a political issue (this should not be taken to mean that issues do not exist).