Palestinian Emigration from Lebanon to Northern Europe: Refugees, Networks, and Transnational Practices

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Abstract

Palestinians in Lebanon are one of the most important communities living in the Middle East, with nearly 350,000 refugees according to UNRWA figures. Since the 1980s about 100,000 Palestinians have emigrated from Lebanon to the Gulf countries and northern Europe, mainly Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. The Palestinian case leads us to reconsider the classical distinction between forced and voluntary migration. Migration has to be considered not only as forced, but also as the result of new forms of transnational solidarity between the different scattered Palestinian communities. This paper aims to demonstrate how refugee communities, like Palestinians, but also Kurds or Eritreans, use their social capital (i.e., solidarity networks) in order to adapt to new situations with strong constraints and to develop new forms of transnational solidarities.

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Palestinians in Lebanon are one of the most important Palestinian communities in the Middle East, with nearly 350,000 refugees according to the 2001 statistics given by the United Nation Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Most of them arrived in 1948, and more than half of them still live in one of the thirteen refugee camps administrated by the UNRWA, whilst a substantial number live in informal gatherings. The Palestinian community has faced several difficulties since its arrival in Lebanon. First, there have been legal restrictions concerning obtaining work permits, owning land or constructing housing, movement across borders, and accessibility to social welfare and education. Second, refugees have suffered from the insecurities of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1991) and the Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982. (1) Since the 1980s about 100,000 Palestinians have emigrated from Lebanon to the Gulf countries and northern Europe, mainly Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. Migration has to be considered not only as forced, but also as the result of new forms of transnational solidarity between the different scattered Palestinian communities. This paper aims to demonstrate how refugee communities, such as the Palestinians, but also the Kurds or the Eritreans, (2) use their social capital (i.e., solidarity networks) in order to adapt to new situations despite great constraints, and succeed in developing new forms of transnational solidarity.

This paper is structured as follows. Firstly, I will examine the different stages of Palestinian emigration from Lebanon to Europe from the 1970s to the present day. Secondly, I will explore the mechanisms that sustain this mobility, based on the setting up of migratory networks between the two areas. Thirdly, I will stress the importance of the camps and the gatherings in the structuring of a transnational migratory field. This work is primarily based on fieldwork studies in Lebanon between 1997 and 1999, specifically in South Lebanon and in Sweden, and on interviews with Palestinian refugees in these two areas.

1. The Four Main Stages of Palestinian Emigration from Lebanon

1.1 The Analytical Framework

Seteney Shami (3) notes that in the Middle East the distinction between forced migration and voluntary migration is not always relevant. The author suggests that "displacement often leads to labour migration as a coping strategy." Palestinian emigration is a good illustration of this. Firstly, they are considered as refugees in Lebanon because they had been expelled from their homeland in 1948. Then civil war, economic difficulties, and legal discrimination have led them to emigrate from Lebanon to find work, asylum, and a stable juridical status as in Europe. Gil Loescher (4) notes that "in practice, the question of who exactly is a refugee is a major point of contention.... In today's interdependent world, more people are migrating for a wide variety of reasons".

This assumption is also developed by Anthony H. Richmond, (5) who stresses that

   the distinction between movements of population that are voluntary
   and involuntary, or forced and free, is of doubtful
   validity. …