SPECIAL UPDATE ON PALESTINIAN REFUGEES
International Refugee Day
June the 20th is international refugee day. It is an occasion to
remember the 43.3 million displaced people around the world who have
been forced to flee their country under the threat of violence.
Amongst them are Palestinian refugees who represent the longest and
largest unresolved refugee crises in modern history. Even after six
decades their condition is extremely precarious and unique.
For your information PRC has produced an update, attached with this
email, on Palestinian refugees with useful facts and analysis.
SPECIAL UPDATE ON PALESTINIAN REFUGEES
International Refugee Day
June the 20th is international refugee day, marking the anniversary
of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It is an
occasion to remember the 43.3 million displaced people around the
world. It is a day to recognise their bravery and strength in facing
adversity. It is also a day to take positive steps in providing
support in their time of need.
The 1951 Convention gives recognition to the basic human rights of
refugees and a commitment by the international community to provide
assistance during their status as refugees until they return to their
country. A major part of this assistance is to insure that a proper
mechanism is established in order to secure their right to return to
their lands. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
is the international agency that is set up to provide this assistance.
Included amongst the 43.3 million displaced people are the 7.1
million, approximately three quarters of the global Palestinian
population, who are refugees. They represent the longest and largest
unresolved refugee crises in modern history. Many in the UK and around
the world are unaware that Palestinians were expelled from their land
in order to make way for Israel. Below are some basic facts about
• Three quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled in 1948
from their lands, a catastrophe which Palestinians call the Nakba.
• Palestinians fled to neighbouring countries, some fled to
different parts of the world as far away as Argentina and Bolivia.
• The international community mandated the United Nations Relief
and Work Agency (UNRWA) to provide humanitarian relief only to those
that were expelled in 1948. The agency now provides social,
educational and economic assistance for refugees in Gaza, the West
Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
• The 4.8 million UNRWA registered refugees does not take into
account the 400,000 that fled in 1967, Palestinians in diasporas, new
refugees from Israel’s house demolition policies and wars.
• The refugees face many different challenges; economic, social and
existential. They are united by a deep desire to return to their land
which we’ve discovered through our parliamentary delegations to
camps and the survey which PRC has carried out in the refugee camps.
• They are also united by the failure of the international
community to uphold their basic human right to return to their land.
Cause of Their Displacement
Unlike other refugee crises, the roots of Palestinian displacement
are contended, especially on the question of a master plan to drive
Palestinians out of the land. There is however a much easier way to
reconcile the plethora of studies on the origins of the refugee crisis
which is to evaluate the logical conclusions of the Zionist dream and
its underlying assumptions. The question has to be asked, could a
Jewish, democratic State where Jews, even after the mass influx from
Europe in the early 20th century comprised only 30 per cent of the
population, be a realistic aspiration without ethnic cleansing?
The largest number of refugees is currently from Afghanistan. Their
displacement is recognised as a consequence of violence in the region.
The ongoing displacement of Palestinian refugees is not a by product
of an unfortunate consequence of war, it was the only way to fulfil
the Zionist dream to empty the land of its indigenous population in
order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Zionism and population
transfer are inextricably linked, it presupposes population transfer
and its success lies in the continued displacement of Palestinians.
There is vast amount of credible scholarly work which shows that the
violence and ethnic cleansing was premeditated and systematically
implemented. One would think that the historic records and the
tremendous amount of scholarly work which shows that organised and
systemic violence was visited on the Palestinians would have more
credibility simply because it chimes with the theological
underpinnings of Zionism itself.
The Unspoken Crime
The original sin against the Palestinians has become a taboo subject
to the detriment of peace and justice. Every negotiation has failed
simply because a peace process that ignores the roots of the problem
cannot be delivered by anyone. Official approaches to find permanent
solutions nonetheless still tend to view Palestinian refugees as
unique and thus in need of a unique solution. Consequently,
International law and the human rights of refugees are marginalised,
often excluded from debate.
Above all, the Palestinian refugee case is contentious because of the
degree to which it poses a challenge to the state system and more
notably to Israel’s desire to remain a Jewish state and not a
secular democratic state for all its citizens. At the heart of this
challenge are the human rights of Palestinians and Israel’s wish to
maintain its Jewish majority, a major strategic goal of Israel.
Uniquely Critical to a Legal Black Hole
For the millions of Palestinian refugees the gap in their assistance
from the international community is seriously lacking especially given
the length of their displacement. When the Palestinian refugee crises
began in 1948 the UN recognised the grave problem facing the
Palestinians. This is clearly highlighted by the fact that it set up
two separate institutions, United Nations Relief and Work Agency
(UNRWA) and United Nations Conciliatory Committee for Palestine
(UNCCP), exclusively to address the plight of Palestinian refugees.
Furthermore the UN mediator in Palestine, Count Bernadotte, proposed
in 1948 that the right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes
by the present terror and ravages of war was inviolable. They had the
right to be allowed to return to their homes and this should be
affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation
for the property of those who may choose not to return. As a result
the UN passed Resolution 194, reaffirmed more than 100 times in the UN
General Assembly in recognition of the right of return. The UN also
accepted Israel as members state on the condition it upholds UN
resolutions, above all Resolution 194.
From the outset the international community recognised its own
complicity in creating the Palestinian refugee problem and adopted a
heightened response, setting up the two separate institutions, one to
provide emergency relief - UNRWA- and one to provide legal protection
–UNCCP. With Israel’s total rejection to comply with international
demands, UNCCP became obsolete. As a consequence there is now no
recognised institution providing legal protection for the rights of
Palestinian refugees. Their condition has been reduced to humanitarian
crises with UNRWA providing for their humanitarian relief.
The scope of the 1951 Refugee Convention disqualified the
Palestinians from UNHCR’s mandate because according to the
convention it shall ‘’not extend to a person: …. who continues
to receive from other organs or agencies of the United Nations
protection or assistance.” The “other agencies of the United
Nations” originally referred both to UNRWA and to the UNCCP.
In the six decades since the birth of the refugee crises the
Palestinian refugee issue has been reduced from a status of the
highest attention, with two exclusive institutions to meet its
political and humanitarian needs, to one where Palestinian refugees
find themselves in acute legal, political and humanitarian
Impact of the Lack of Legal Protection
The earnest response from the international community has been
replaced by stagnation within the international community to right the
injustice. The impact of this has been grave for Palestinians and the
region in many different ways:
• The conflict has continued with disastrous consequences with new
waves of refugees emerging with every conflict in the region, many
having experienced multiple forced expulsions. As a consequence of the
2003 Iraqi invasion, 34,000 Palestinians from Iraq could be evicted
from their homes.
• Without the legal protection afforded to all other refugees,
Palestinians are in a uniquely vulnerable situation.
• UNRWA is limited to providing humanitarian aid and UNHCR has not
been given the mandate to fill the void. Refugees strongly urge the
international community to continually support UNRWA’s humanitarian
effort and also to expand its mandate to include legal protection and
facilitate their right of return.
• The region has not been able to close a torrid chapter in its
history and develop positively.
• Palestinian refugees continue to grow in number placing an
avoidable burden on the international community for aid and
• The Palestinian people see a future with no hope and no prospect
for a viable economic, social and political infrastructure to develop
and give the people hope and aspiration. Against this backdrop, it is
understandable that many Palestinians have lost faith in the political
• Explosions of violence appear with disastrous effect taking the
international community further away from a just peace.
For more information please contact The Palestinian Return Centre:
Phone: 0208- 453-0919
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