(10 December 2020) Closing the Protection Gap: Fulfilling the International Community’s Obligations per UN Resolution 194(III) to Palestinian Refugees and IDPs


On the 72nd anniversary of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194(III),[1] Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are exposed to an abysmal lack of physical, legal and humanitarian protection to which they are entitled according to international law. Palestinian refugees and IDPs are entitled to comprehensive international protection until the fulfilment of the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights. Comprehensive protection is comprised of physical and legal protection as well as humanitarian aid and assistance.

The United Nations (UN) created two agencies tasked with the provision of international protection to the Palestinian displaced community which numbers 8.71 million, whether they reside in Mandatory Palestine or in exile.[2] Without the practical and operational viability of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), the agency tasked with providing physical and legal protection (including durable solutions), the Palestinian displaced population continues to experience protracted and re-occurring displacement and the denial of the right to reparations (voluntary physical repatriation, property restitution, compensation and guarantees of non-repetition). In addition to the denial of return, Palestinian refugee and IDP properties remain under the illegal control and exploitation of Israel.[3]

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – despite its repeated calls for additional financial support – faces another significant budget deficit in the neighborhood of USD 115 million.[4] UNRWA services, which are intended to provide humanitarian aid and assistance, have been steadily decreasing, both in quality and quantity, as the needs of Palestinian refugees continue to grow, particularly with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. The current UNRWA Commission General (CG) declared that UNRWA’s core budget has been depleted and there were no funds left to pay November and December salaries.[5] Consequently, the Union of Arab Workers of UNRWA is contemplating going on strike, which will result in a further deterioration of services.[6]  

Although during the United Nations General Assembly’s 75th session of October 2020, the UN adopted three resolutions addressing the inalienable rights of Palestinian refugees, the Palestinian displaced population – amounting to almost 67 percent of the Palestinian people – continues to be subject to an ever-widening protection gap. These resolutions re-affirm the need for protection and support to UNRWA, but lack definitive measures to actualize that protection and support. As the UNRWA is providing less than adequate services and the UNCCP is providing no form of protection, Palestinian refugees and IDPs are left with little to no protection. While UNRWA’s CG called for “solidarity” with its staff and the Palestinian refugees,[7] what is required is not merely solidarity but the fulfillment of the international community’s specific and absolute responsibilities towards the Palestinian displaced population.

Closing the protection gap that Palestinian refugees and IDPs face is an incumbent obligation on the UN and its member states, which requires practical measures to ensure comprehensive protection. Such measures must include:  

  1. Making urgent grants to close the 2020 deficiency in the UNRWA’s budget, which stands at USD 115 million.
  2. Converting state contributions to the UNRWA core budget from voluntary to mandatory contributions to guarantee consistent support to essential programs (education, health care and social services). These should be earmarked by the General Assembly as part of its annual budget, ensuring the provision of a minimum annual core budget.
  3. Expanding UNRWA’s mandate to enable it to provide the required international (humanitarian, legal and physical) protection to all Palestinian refugees in all their places of residence.
  4. Taking measures to implement UN General Assembly Resolution 194(III) of 1948, UN General Assembly Resolution 394(V) of 1950 and relevant subsequent resolutions on refugee properties  and UN Security Council Resolution 237 of 1967, to ensure the right to reparations for Palestinian refugees and IDPs.

[1] Through Resolution 194(III), the United Nations General Assembly set out the principles for a final settlement of the Palestinian refugee question, and their return to their homes, in the following terms: “[…] 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, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” UNGA, 194(III). Palestine – Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator, 11 December 1948, A/RES/194, available at: https://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/C758572B78D1CD0085256BCF0077E51A [accessed 10 December 2020] 

[2] BADIL, Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons 2016-2018, vol.9 (Bethlehem: BADIL, 2019), 1, available at: https://www.badil.org/phocadownloadpap/badil-new/publications/survay/survey2016-2018-eng.pdf

[3] See BADIL, Forced Population Transfer: The Case of Palestine – Denial of Reparations, working paper no.22 (October 2018), available at: http://www.badil.org/phocadownloadpap/badil-new/publications/research/working-papers/WP22-Reparations-of-Reparations.pdf

[4] “Statement of the Commissioner-General to the Advisory Commission on UNWRA Virtual Meeting,” 23 November 2020, available at: https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/statement-commissioner-general-advisory-commission-unrwa-virtual [accessed 10 December 2020]

[5] Idem.

[6] “اتحاد موظفي الأونروا يشرع "بنزاع عمل" والأخيرة تستنكر,“ Ma’an News, 8 December 2020, available in Arabic at:https://www.maannews.net/news/2026321.html?fbclid=IwAR0E4xQKZFMada23JN6x_XMYcPj9aktx74LaaNxG9ZkoqJUlbbSSGGKs0z4 [accessed 10 December 2020]