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An International Mission composed of representatives from Canada, Egypt, the European Union, Japan and the Netherlands conducted an intensive programme of visits to five Palestinian camps in Lebanon from May 19-23. They inspected facilities, observed major problems, met with Lebanese government and UNRWA officials, and had intensive and wide-ranging discussions with a large number of Palestinian refugee representatives and individuals.

The mission was essentially humanitarian in character, designed to discuss with the Lebanese government the most appropriate ways of addressing the social economic and humanitarian challenges pertaining to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and to assess and give profile to their needs. A further purpose was to continue the dialogue with the refugees in Lebanon and to hear their views. Members of the delegation said they wanted to "serve as a loudspeaker" to the world about the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and to give profile to their humanitarian situation, so as to increase international assistance.

In addition to meeting with Prime Minister Hariri, the team met with officials from the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior. It expressed appreciation to the Lebanese government for consenting to the Mission, which it understood as a signal of Lebanon's concern for the humanitarian condition of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as well as a reflection of its desire for continued engagement with other interested countries on this issue.

The delegation visited five Palestinian refugee camps, Bourj al Brajneh in Beirut, Ain el Helwe and Rashidieh in South Lebanon, and Nahr al Bared and Beddaoui in the Tripoli area. These camps were chosen in order to enable the delegation to visit a representative sample of camps and to see a variety of conditions. The delegation was also briefed by UNRWA and others on the situation in other camps.

In most of the camps the delegation met with the popular committees as well as other figures as appropriate to the situation of the camps. The delegation also met with a variety of Lebanese and Palestinian experts, thinkers and intellectuals in Beirut, in order to gain a broader appreciation of the nature of the challenges and problems.

In the camps the delegation saw a full range of both the services already offered and the continued needs. These ranged from modern UNRWA schools and health clinics, through ones very much in need of replacement or rehabilitation, to cases where facilities or equipment were still urgently needed. The delegation was deeply troubled by the scenes of open waste water channels in dark, damp, overcrowded tenements areas, where some families were living in conditions of 12 and more to a room. It observed that the conditions of the displaced in and on the edges of the camps was particularly shocking. It was told that the conditions of urban life in these cramped communities present significant health hazards to the refugee population as well as, in some cases, to neighbouring Lebanese communities. It visited the UNRWA vocational training centre at Siblin and was told there and elsewhere about important needs in the field of education. Unemployment and the lack of outside income was a major concern in all camps visited.

At the same time the visiting team was shown and told about projects which were under construction or committed by donors, projects through which the international community was responding to the recommendations of earlier missions. These included the EU project for the improvement of water supply and waste water networks in eight camps ranging from Rashidieh in the south to Nahr al Bared in the north, a Canadian-sponsored project to rehabilitate the shelters for 50 displaced refugee families within Beddaoui camp, and Japan's commitment respecting secondary schooling in Ain al Helwe.

While the team noted that projects such as these were making a difference, they were told that there is an urgent priority need to bring further remedies to the socio-economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian refugees. The areas of shelter, hospitalization, unemployment and education were frequently emphasized as the most urgent.

In their meetings in the camps, the five representatives exchanged views with Palestinian refugees not only on the socio-economic and humanitarian problems in the camps but also on the fundamentals of the refugee problem itself. In particular in all their meetings with Palestinians the delegation was told about the fundamental importance which the Palestinians attach to their right of return, and to a political solution of the refugee question based on UN resolutions. The team heard a variety of views on the peace process.

For its part, the team reassured the Palestinian refugees of the continued support of the international community for a negotiated solution, and of its certainty that no solution could be a lasting one if it did not resolve the Palestinian refugee problem. At the same time the delegation also heard from the Palestinians that they did not see improvement of their living conditions in Lebanon as a substitute for their homeland. The delegation members fully shared this view. The team also met with UNRWA officials, and it expressed its appreciation for the full support and cooperation of UNRWA in arranging the visits to camps. UNRWA officials accompanied the delegation to the camps, explained needs and drew attention to problems as well as to the Agency's plans for addressing problems. The delegation, while recognizing the serious financial challenges which UNRWA faces at the present time, remarked upon the devotion of UNRWA staff to their mandate of service to the Palestinian refugees, and their determined efforts to address these problems. They also were told by the Palestinians about the importance the refugees themselves attach to the continuation of UNRWA and its services. Responding to the concerns expressed on this issue, the delegation emphasized the wide international consensus in support of UNRWA.

After further reflection and exchanges among the members of the mission a report will be produced on their impressions and observations during their intensive programme. The report will be widely distributed to UNRWA donor countries, to member countries of the Refugee Working Group, and to other countries.

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