The Status of Palestinian Refugees and Stateless Persons in Europe

This article is based on a paper drafted by BADIL for the Council of Europe (CoE) Hearing on Palestinian Refugees and Stateless Persons in Europe, 16 December 2002 (Budapest)

It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Palestinian refugees and stateless persons currently residing in Europe. The exact number of Palestinian refugees in Europe, however, is unknown. Most states do not include Palestinians as a separate ethnic or national group in population censi. Statistical information often categorizes Palestinians as ‘other Middle East.’ Estimates for the number of Palestinian refugees residing in individual European states are therefore incomplete and inconsistent. Partial estimates include: Germany (30,000-80,000); Denmark (20,000); UK (15,000); Sweden (9,000); and France (3,000). Palestinian refugees in Europe comprise approximately 3.5 percent of the global Palestinian refugee and displaced population.

At present there is considerable confusion and conflicting interpretations within and among European states about the status of Palestinian refugees in Europe under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Most European states either do not recognize or incorporate Article 1D of the Refugee Convention into domestic law or interpret the Article incorrectly. Practically, this means that Palestinian refugees in Europe are placed outside of the international protection system for refugees worldwide. Palestinian refugees often face difficulties when they apply for political asylum, residence based on family reunification, employment etc. While the new UNHCR interpretation on the applicability of Article 1D to Palestinian refugees essentially brings most Palestinian refugees in Europe within the scope of the 1951 Refugee Convention, with one key exception – female refugees married to non-refugees registered with UNRWA (See, A Critical Analysis of the Revised UNHCR Interpretation of the Status of Palestinian Refugees under International Refugee Law, page #) it remains to be seen whether European states will apply this new interpretation.

In addition to the day-to-day protection of Palestinian refugees in Europe, there are conflicting approaches to the framework for a durable solution for Palestinian refugees. In principle, most European states support the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes (as set forth in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and international law). In practice, however, current European positions for durable solutions for Palestinian refugees are often inconsistent with legal norms applied in other refugee cases. Generally, the European Union has not issued specific declarations on durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. The only document explicitly recognizing the right of Palestinian refugees to choose to return to their homes is a 1973 French document known as the ‘Schuman Paper’, which was never published due to reservations by several European states. Council of Europe Resolution 1156 (1998), which states, that the Palestinian refugee issue must be resolved primarily through resettlement is inconsistent with international law and relevant CoE resolutions concerning other refugees. Resolution 1156 also contradicts the aims of the Council of Europe to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law.

Remedy of these problems will require coordinated and systematic European efforts. Efforts should include a comprehensive survey of existing consultative and legal bodies to obtain hard data on definitions, status and numbers of Palestinian refugees in EU states; European-wide consultations and discussions to ensure that Palestinian refugees receive the maximum international protection available under the relevant international instruments until their situation is resolved in accordance with international and relevant UN resolutions; and, development of a unified individual state and EU approach to crafting durable solutions for Palestinian refugees consistent with international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights.

To contact the Council of Europe regarding its position on Palestinian refugees and for more information see,