General Mission of Palestine-Tokyo HOME
HOME > The Confile > Refugees


The Palestinian refugee problem was created as the result of two wars (An-Naqba of 1948 and An-Naqsa of 1967), massa-cres, and other aggressions perpetrated by Jewish underground and terror groups such as Haganah, Irgun, and Stern. After the War of 1948, the UN Conciliation Commission estimated that 726,000 Palestinians had fled outside while 32,000 remained within the armistice lines. Of the 800,000 Arabs originally situated in the area that became Israel, only some 150,000 remained in their homes, becoming an Arab minority in the Jewish state; some 531 villages and towns were destroyed or resettled with Jews. The total losses of destroyed or confiscated Palestinian property is estimated at US$209 billion. In addition to the refugees, there are the internally displaced Palestinians, who were expelled from their villages located in what became Israel - during the 1948 War. At the end of the war, they numbered some 30-40,000 people who were not allowed internally to return to their homes and placed under military rule to facilitate the expropriation of their land. Until today, Israel does not recognize internally displaced Palestinians, whose number is estimated at 263,000-300,000 (BADIL Center, Bethlehem).

In 1950, 914,221 refugees were registered with UNRWA. In 1967, some 300,000 Palestinians were displaced from the west Bank & Gaza Strip (WBGS) including around 175,000 UN-RWA registered refugees who became refugees for a second time. Today, the total refugee population registered with UNRWA numbers almost 4 million.

After Oslo, all camps in the WBGS except Shu'fat Camp in Jerusalem came under the control of the PA, but the overall fate of the refugees remains one of the most complex issues still awaiting a solution in the context of the 'final status' talks between the PLO/PA and Israel. The Israeli position rejects the 'right of return' for the refugees and dis-placed persons given the direct (demographic) threat to Israeli statehood. Israel wants to solve the problem by resettlement in Arab host countries, international efforts to improve the refugees' living conditions, and restricted readmission based on humanitarian considerations.

The Palestinians, conversely, demand the absolute 'right of return'to the area of mandatory Palestine for all Palestinian refugees of 1948, based on UNGA Res. 194 (Dec. 1948), which recognized the right of refugees to return or receive compensation ("The refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date ... compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return"). Therefore, they have generally refused the initiation of any projects inside the camps that imply permanence or encourage refugees to remain where they are.

UNRWA Registered Refugees (June 2002)
West Bank Gaza Strip Jordan Syria Lebanon Total
626,532 878,977 1,679,823 401,185 387,043 3,973,360
Increase over 2001 3.1% 3.1% 2.4% 2.4% 1.1% 2.5%
% of total population 32 83.1 34.5 2.6 11.4 32.7
% of total RRS 16 22 42 10 10 100
No. of refugee camps 19 8 10** 10 12 59
RR living in camps
(in % of RR)
RR outside camps 458,025 410,906 1,386,608 285,322 169,832 2,710,493
Training Centers
Primary Health Care

** Three additional neighbourhoods in Amman, Zarqa and Madaba are considered 'unofficial' camps by UNRWA.
(Source: UNRWA in Figures, UNRWA Headquarters, June 2002.)

*Some 50% of Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora are not registered with UNRWA because of its narrow definition, according to which refugees are only persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the War of 1948, and who took refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Jordanian-ruled West Bank or the Egyptian-administered Gaza Strip. The definition covers the descendants of those refugees, but does not include refugees who fled elsewhere, those displaced in 1967 (at least 325,000) unless they were already registered with UNRWA, or those who were outside the WBGS in 1967. Also not included are those WBGS Palestinians who overstayed their permits while abroad, and thus have not been allowed to return. There are over 50,000 such cases.

Living Conditions

One of the problems Palestinian refugees face is that Arab states do not grant foreigners full residency status. In Lebanon, refugees face the harshest condi-tions; their Lebanese travel documents are not recognized by most countries in the world, they must obtain work permits issued by the Lebanese authorities and are not allowed to work in the public sector at all, nor in over 70 professions in the private sector. In Syria, refugees enjoy the same rights as Syrian citizens with the exception of the right to vote, hold office, or possess Syrian passports. Instead, they hold travel documents, which are not recognized by many governments. In Jordan, the situation is best: Palestinians are considered citizens and carry regular Jordanian passports, are entitled to vote and to hold office, enjoy full rights to public services, such as higher education, and can work in the government sector. An exception are the ca. 100,000 refugees from Gaza (under Egyptian control from 1948-1967), who are only eligible for temporary Jordanian passports.
Common problems include overcrowded housing, poor infrastructure (unpaved streets and open sewers), poverty and unemployment. Some 5.8% of all registered refugees are considered special hardship cases, with the largest shares in Lebanon (10.8%) and Gaza (9.1%). Schools often run on double shifts with an average of 50 pupils per classroom.

Distribution of UNRWA Registered Refugees by District and Camps (RC)
West Bank
District Camp (year of est.) Population
Nablus Askar (1950)
Balata (1950)
Camp No. 1 (1950)
Jenin Far'a (1949)
Jenin (1953)
Tulkarm Nur Shams (1952)
Tulkarm (1950)
Ramallah Ama'ri (1949)
Deir Ammar (1949)
Jalazon (1949)
Qalandia (1949)
Jerusalem Shu'fat (1965/66 ) 9,396**
Aqabat Jaber (1948)
Ein Sultan (1948)
Bethlehem Dheisheh (1949)
Aida (1950)
Beit Jibrin (1950)
Hebron Fawwar (1949)
Arroub (1950)
Gaza Strip
District Camp (year of est.) Population
Gaza North Jabalia (1948/49) 103,646
Gaza City Shati (Beach) (1949) 76,109
Gaza South Khan Younis (1949)
Rafah (1949)
Gaza Central Deir Balah (1949)
Nuseirat (1948/49)
Bureij (1949)
Al-Maghazi (1949)
** the de facto numbers of the camp population are much higher as some 4,000 refugees have moved into the camp in the past years to avoid losing theirresidency rights in Jerusalem.
(Source: UNRWA, 2002.)

Recommended Research Sources : (Badil Canter for Refugee and Residency Rights) (Shaml Palestinian Diaspora & Refugee Canter) (Palestinian Return Canter, London)
(Palestinian Refugee Research Net, c/o McGill University)


Abu Sitta, Salman. From Refugees to Citizens at Home. London: Palestine Land Society and Palestinian Return Center, Sept. 2001.
Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Palestinian Refugee Compensation. Washington, DC: Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, Information Paper No. 3, 1995.
Palestinian Refugees: Their Problem and Future. Washington, DC: Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, October 1994.
PASSIA. Palestinian Refugees Special Bulletin. Jerusalem, 2001. (available at
Peretz, Don. Palestinian Refugees and the Middle East Peace Process. Washington, D.C.: US Institute of Peace, 1993.
Pulfer, G. & A. Al-Mashni, West Bank and Gaza Strip: Palestinian Refugees Five Years After Oslo. Bethlehem: BADIL, 1999.
Right of Return. Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2002.
Shiblak, A. & U. Davis.. Civil and Citizenship Rights of Palestinian Refugees. Monograph Series No 1, Ramallah: Shaml, 1996.
Takkenberg, Lex. The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.
Tamari, S. Palestinian Refugee Negotiations: From Madrid to Oslo II. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1996.
Zureik, Elia. Palestinian Refugees and the Peace Process. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1996.

Contact us
Copyright (c) 2004 General Mission of Palestine. All Rights Reserved.