During the first half of 2021, approximately 438,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, 28,017 Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in Lebanon and 18,164 PRS in Jordan entered a state of greater poverty and vulnerability as the impact socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened. and unemployment rates have skyrocketed across the region.
In Syria, the devaluation of the Syrian pound (SYP) and rapidly rising inflation have pushed commodity prices higher. Food security was further affected by: (i) a strengthened international sanctions regime that continued to affect a wide range of economic sectors and the import of basic necessities, including food and medicine; (ii) an escalation of the fuel crisis, leading to irregular supplies of gasoline and electricity; and (iii) the financial and banking crisis in neighboring Lebanon which severed Syria’s link with its last financial gateway. Taken together, these developments have had a negative impact on the daily lives of people in Syria, including Palestinian refugees, at all levels.
According to the World Food Program (WFP), in June 2021, “the average price of the national food basket was 49% higher than in December 2020 (six months ago) and 102% higher than in June 2020.” The prices of staple foods such as sugar and fresh eggs increased by 3-12% between May and June 2021. In addition, water shortages along the Euphrates River caused the harvest to decline. wheat and an increase in the prices of staple vegetables.
A May 2021 UNRWA Field Office in Syria (SFO) Crisis Tracking Survey found that 82 percent of individuals in the 503 Palestinian refugee households surveyed (representing 2,000 refugees) are now living with less than 1, USD 9 per day (at the rate of SYP 3,250). / US $), which includes cash assistance received from UNRWA. This represents an increase of 8% compared to the results of the 2017/2018 UNRWA Socio-Economic Household Survey. The survey also found that 48% of total household spending was on food, a disproportionate amount that indicates severe distress within families to manage household budgets and ensure food intake.
Surveys by WFP, UNFPA and other humanitarian organizations indicate that overall, women, especially those who head households, have been particularly affected by the increased responsibilities for care and loss of livelihood for those who have to work. According to Care International, “the income generated by women’s work is not sufficient to meet the needs of their households”.
As the active conflict in Syria abated as the country entered its tenth year of conflict, the situation remained volatile in Idleb and Aleppo governorates in the northwest and Daraa in the south where reconciliation agreements remained fragile.
Overall, an estimated 40% of Palestinian refugees in Syria remain in protracted displacement. The psychological impact of leaving their homes and neighborhoods in the midst of violent clashes, and the disintegration of their social fabric and coping mechanisms, is profound.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the difficulties faced by Palestinian refugees in Syria, pushing even more families into poverty and a growing dependence on UNRWA. The crisis has also had an impact on the number of refugees returning to Syria due to preventive border restrictions. UNRWA estimates that 443 Palestinian refugees returned to Syria in the first half of 2021, compared to 3,705 refugees who returned in 2019, suggesting that the deteriorating socio-economic situation in Syria was also a determining factor.
By the end of May 2021, more than 1,000 families had received permission to return to Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus, although only just over 400 families were actually residing in the camp as of June 2021 due to the high level of destruction. , limited availability of commodities. services and economic deterioration. Preliminary government permissions to open and renovate commercial stores were also provided and the first vegetable store opened in February 2021 inside the camp.
In Lebanon, multiple overlapping crises, including a rapidly deteriorating socio-economic and financial situation, exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 and the repercussions of the Beirut port explosion in 2020, exacerbated in the first half of 2021 with widespread fuel and electricity shortages and soaring food prices. Political instability and the inability to form a government during the reporting period pushed up the informal market exchange rate from 8,000 Lebanese pounds (LBP) / US $ to 17,000 LBP / US $, which contributed to the deterioration of economic conditions from April. The Food Security Cluster in Lebanon reported that the revised Minimum Food Survival Expenditure Basket (SMEB) registered a 14% increase between May and June 2021 to 268,258 LBP, “more than five times the cost of the basket in October. 2019 (404% increase) “. At the same time, the Lebanese pound has continued to depreciate against the US dollar, making commodities more inaccessible for many people. The announcements of the Central Bank of Lebanon on the lifting planned fuel subsidies and price uncertainty have led to the closure of pharmacies and reduced access to medicines. The World Bank has warned that “the social impact of the already dire crisis could quickly turn catastrophic “.
The state of the PRS in Lebanon remains particularly worrying.
Data from UNRWA’s internal monitoring mechanisms indicate that an increasing number of PRSs have not been able to meet their basic needs in 2021. Worsened by the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, the Growing food insecurity has forced many of them to resort to increasingly negative coping mechanisms. to meet the basic needs of their families. Many refugees said they had lost their jobs due to the closure of shops and restaurants and in the transport and construction sectors which were paralyzed due to fuel shortages. Those still working reported that the lack of transportation, due to rising fuel prices, forced them to struggle to keep their jobs. Deteriorating socio-economic conditions have particularly affected women and children in Lebanon, putting them at increased risk. High levels of domestic and intimate partner violence, increased child labor and the involvement of children in dangerous activities, including drug trafficking and with armed groups, have all been reported.
In Jordan, the situation remained relatively stable during the first half of 2021. However, an unprecedented youth unemployment rate of 50% at the end of 2020 is not an encouraging sign for the year ahead. In the first quarter of 2021, the overall unemployment rate in Jordan reached 25 percent with deteriorating socio-economic conditions particularly affecting the most vulnerable and marginalized, including Palestinian refugees, PRS, those enrolled in the net program. Social Security Agency (SSNP); and ex-refugees from Gaza. In early 2021, a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases began to overwhelm Jordan’s national health system; however, government restrictions to stop the spread were lifted in late April as conditions improved. The prolonged impact of the pandemic continues to affect the economy and has further worsened the deterioration of socio-economic conditions (public sector debt fell from 96% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 to 105% in 2020 ). Conditions at the King Abdullah Park (KAP) Refugee Reception Center near Irbid for 637 PRS remained of particular concern, with restrictions on movement and the risk of refoulement affecting the well-being of already vulnerable refugees.