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
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)
|% of total
|% of total
|No. of refugee
(in % of RR)
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
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)
||Camp (year of
Camp No. 1 (1950)
Deir Ammar (1949)
Ein Sultan (1948)
Beit Jibrin (1950)
(year of est.)
|** 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.)
(Badil Canter for Refugee and Residency Rights)
(Shaml Palestinian Diaspora & Refugee Canter)
(Palestinian Return Canter, London)
(Palestinian Refugee Research Net, c/o McGill University)
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