Number of Palestinians in Lebanon: 650,000, 175,000, or 250,000?

How many Palestinians are there in Lebanon? This question was raised in December 2017 after the announcement of the results of the general census of population and housing in the Palestinian camps and communities in Lebanon. The census put the number of Palestinians at 174,000, starkly lower than the previously circulated figure of 500,000 to 560,000, leading many to question why there was such a significant difference. So which is the truth?

The beginning

Palestinian displacement to Lebanon began in 1948 following the occupation of large areas of Palestine by Israeli forces and the expulsion of Palestinian residents to neighboring countries, including Lebanon. At that time, the number of displaced Palestinians was estimated at around 100,000.  

Israel continued its aggression in 1967. It occupied new areas in Palestine and expelled residents. The estimated number of displaced people was around 150,000.

In early 1982, the number of Palestinians residing in Lebanon, both inside and outside the camps, reached about 600,000–650,000. Yet these numbers had been declining after Israel’s war on Lebanon, and continued to dwindle with the 1982 invasion, the War of the Camps in 1985, and Palestinians’ emigration from Lebanon.

Counting Palestinians in Lebanon

 Based on the records of the Department of Palestinian Refugee Affairs at the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, the number of Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon is 592,711. It is a huge number as it includes those who have emigrated and those who have died.

According to UNRWA records, Palestinians in Lebanon number 459,292 as the names of some emigrants are still included in these records. To confuse the issue further, some Palestinians are registered in neither state nor UNRWA records, making the number of Palestinians in Lebanon inaccurate and governed by political considerations.

Official figures indicate that there are 46,801 Palestinian students in pre-university education, distributed as follows:

- 31,106 students in UNRWA schools

- 15,695 students in Lebanese private and public schools

Thus, based on sociology, the estimated number of Palestinians is the number of students multiplied by five, i.e. about 234,000-250,000 at a minimum. They are distributed as follows:

- 135,000 outside the camps

- 115,000 inside the 12 camps  (Nahr Al-Bared, Beddawi, Ain Al-Hilweh, Al-Rashidiya, Bourj Al-Shamali, Al-Bass, Mieh Mieh, Shatila, Bourj Al-Barajneh, Mar Elias, Dbayeh, and Wavel).

Surprising results of census: 174,000 Palestinians

The Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), established under the Lebanese Prime Minister, led the census carried out by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics (CAS) and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).

The census showed the following results:

- The number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is 174,422, which is far lower than the previously declared figure. 78,897 (45%) live inside the camps and 95,525 (55%) outside the camps.

- In Lebanon, 18,601 Palestinian refugees have come from Syria during the Syrian crisis.

- The greatest concentration of Palestinians was in Saida (35.8%), followed by North Lebanon (25.1%).

- The census indicated that the Palestinian population in the camps is lower than declared. There are 18,763 Palestinian refugees in Ain Al-Hilweh and 748 in Mar Elias, not including recent Palestinian arrivals from Syria. However, the total number of camps residents is double that.

- Syrians constitute 23% of the residents of Palestinian camps, whereas Palestinians (not including recent Palestinian arrivals from Syria) constitute 65.4%. Syrians are the majority in the Bourj Al-Barajneh (47.9%) and Shatila (57.6%) camps.