After 68 years of ongoing forced displacement from, and within, their homeland, Palestinian refugees remain the largest and longest-standing refugee population in the world. As of 2015, there were 7.25 million Palestinian refugees in the world, and over 700,000 internally displaced Palestinians. Moreover, these numbers are destined to increase for as long as Israel maintains its denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, coupled with its relentless forced displacement of Palestinians throughout Historic Palestine by way of a range of discriminatory policies.
Palestinian refugees can be categorized in two main groups: the first composed of those Palestinians who were expelled from their homes in 1948 and their descendants, who in total number 6.1 million persons. The second group is made up of those Palestinians who were expelled from their homes in the 1967 war, along with their descendants, who in total number some 1.1 million persons. The majority of these refugees live less than 100 kilometers from the borders of their original home country, in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or reside in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Many Palestinian refugees across the Middle East have been extremely vulnerable to prevailing political instability, resulting in violence and widespread conflict, and are often subjected to further forcible displacement. From the over 500,000 Palestinian refugees that resided in Syria before the war, 390,000 have been displaced so far, 280,000 internally within Syria, and over 110,000 to neighboring countries, becoming refugees for the second, or sometimes, third time, in their lifetime.
The situation of Palestinian refugees is characterized by the ‘gap’ in protection they suffer. No UN agency or other authoritative body has been designated as primarily responsible for their protection or the pursuit of durable solutions. The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), the agency that was created for such purpose in 1948, has been inoperative for over six decades, leaving Palestinian refugees de facto without international protection. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is mandated to provide humanitarian assistance for Palestinian refugees, which is a necessary intervention and one of the core pillars of international protection, but it can only be a temporary measure aimed at alleviating suffering and must not be considered a substitute for a comprehensive rights-based solution.
Addressing this completely unacceptable and unsustainable state of affairs therefore represents a matter of great urgency and a just resolution can only be realized through the application of concerted pressure by the international community through all available channels. Accordingly, BADIL highlights that such joint efforts must be based on adopting and supporting durable rights-based solutions as a long-term strategy for Palestinian refugees; taking effective measures to bring Israel into compliance with international law; and ensuring effective protection of Palestinian refugees and for those at risk of forced displacement inside Palestine and third party countries.