Palestinian refugees inject US$350 million into Lebanon’s economy every year despite being barred from many highly-paid professions.
The findings come in a report by Association Najdeh, a group which works with Christian Aid.
More than 400,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon - about 10 per cent of the population - and the report found that they face tight working restrictions and falling incomes which have left about half of them living below the poverty line.
The study found that the refugees contributed about a tenth of household and business spending on goods and services in 2008 in Lebanon, despite unemployment for Palestinians running at 40 per cent.
“Palestinians are seen by many people living in Lebanon as a drain on the economy but this survey shows that they play an extremely beneficial economic role in the country,” says Hanan Elmasu, Christian Aid’s emergency advocacy officer for the Middle East.
“We urge the UK and EU governments to press the Lebanese government to end restrictions on the right to work for Palestinians to help improve the dire conditions in which they are forced to live.”
The refugees are not a burden on the welfare system as they are unable to claim health and other social benefits, the group said in the report based on a survey of 1,500 households at eight camps in 2008. Many complained about a lack of safeguards at work.
Most of the Palestinian refugees live in 12 camps and other informal settlements in Lebanon. Most are descendants of those who fled fighting or were forced to leave their homes when Israel was created in 1948.
Even though some have lived in Lebanon for decades, they are classified as 'foreigners'. The report by Association Najdeh says they are not allowed to work as doctors, engineers, pharmacists or in other professions.
The second largest refugee camp, Nahr el Bared, was destroyed in 2006 after three months of fighting there between Islamic militants and the military.
It had been home to more than 40,000 Palestinian refugees and was a major economic centre with more than 1,500 active businesses and a thriving market. Its reconstruction has been hit by delays and a shortage of funds.
Association Najdeh called on the Lebanese government to swiftly rebuild the camp.
“Daily economic and social life will be improved markedly when the camp fully reopens,” says its director, Leila el Ali.