Who are the Palestinian Refugees?
Palestinian refugees were citizens of Palestine who fled or were expelled from their homes during the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’) of 1947-49 with the creation of the state of Israel, and during the 1967 war.
Refugee status is transferred to the children of refugees and their descendants until a just and lasting solution to their plight is found, in line with the international legal principle governing all refugee cases.
The Rights of Palestinian Refugees
The Right of Return is both an individual and collective universal right and binding in international law, although Palestinians are prevented from exercising their right to this day.
Article 13(b) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
The UN has reaffirmed this right in the particular case of Palestinian refugees on over 135 occasions.
UN General Assembly resolution 194 resolves that:
“The refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.
On 15th May each year Palestinians across the world mark Nakba Day, among them student associations commemorating the historic dispossession of the Palestinian people while reaffirming a commitment to the rights and dignity of Palestinian refugees.
The Role of UNRWA
UNRWA was founded in 1949 by the United Nations General Assembly in the aftermath of the Nakba. The Agency’s mandate is to provide assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. Millions of Palestinian refugees continue to depend on UNRWA’s health, relief, camp infrastructure, microfinance and emergency assistance services. UNRWA is also the biggest provider of education to Palestinian refugees.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has described the plight of the Palestinian refugees as “by far the most protracted and largest of all refugee problems in the world today”. Estimates of the current Palestinian refugee population vary but recent assessments suggest there are almost 8 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, of which 5.5 million are registered with UNRWA.
Today, the majority of UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees continue to live in camps in Palestine and neighbouring Arab countries.
The living conditions of Palestinian refugees vary between the different host states and territories.
Those in the occupied Palestinian territories face the human rights abuses and de-development policies of the occupation.
In Syria many have suffered violence and displacement as a result of the civil war.
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are subject to systematic discrimination in the areas of work, health and education.
Upholding the rights and dignity of Palestinian refugees
UNRWA, which is funded by UN member states, embodies the recognition of the international community’s collective duty to the Palestinian people in general and the refugees in particular.
However, donor contributions have failed to keep up with the growing demand for the Agency’s essential services.
The recognition of Palestinian refugee rights and their political status has also come under sustained attack and in 2018 UNRWA’s biggest donor, the US, suspended its financial contribution precipitating a major financial crisis. Although the Biden administration has pledged to restore funding, this will be far below the level it was before 2018.
As a result of this prolonged financial crisis, Palestinian refugees are facing cuts to essential services provided by UNRWA.
Today, Palestinians are calling on the international community to fulfil its duties and ensure the dignity and rights of Palestinian refugees are upheld.