Palestinian Refugees from Syria in the UK

by Lana Ramadan*

Photo: Protesters urge the British government to do more to help Syrian refugees during a protest in Parliament Square, London, July 2015. (Frank Augstein/AP)

As in other European countries, the UK responded to the Syrian crisis by giving humanitarian aid and setting up a resettlement scheme for Syrians. However, the UK excluded Palestinian refugees from Syria from the resettlement scheme and did not provide them with the same treatment as Syrian nationals. Instead, Palestinian refugees from Syria seeking asylum in the UK go through the asylum application process just like any other Palestinian seeking asylum from countries other than Syria. This article will highlight the UK’s asylum and resettlement frameworks, explain its policies in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and show how Palestinian refugees from Syria are not receiving equal protection in the UK. 

The Asylum Framework                                                                                                                                           

The asylum framework in the UK is established and regulated by the Secretary of State for the Home Office. The Home Office deals with asylum applications coming through different routes, such as the Regular Procedure, the Detained Fast Track (DFT) procedure and the Dublin Regulation for suitable transfer. There are also other routes which include appeal cases and unaccompanied minor cases. Usually, the decision concerning Regular Procedure applications is made within six months of receiving the application. The DFT procedure[1] applications should be decided upon within 15 days, including a first appeal. This procedure is highly criticized as it excludes vulnerable applicants.[2] Finally, the Dublin Regulation establishes the criteria and mechanisms for determining which EU Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application. The core principle of this procedure is that the responsibility for examining an asylum claim lies in most cases with the EU member state of first entry.[3] However, in 2014 approximately 20,000 asylum applications received through the Regular Procedure since 2006 remained pending decisions.[4]

According to UK law, an asylum seeker is a person who has applied for asylum and is still awaiting a decision on whether he will be granted refugee status or not. An applicant may also be granted permission to remain in the UK for humanitarian or other reasons, if they do not qualify for refugee status. The number of asylum applications that reached the UK in 2015 was 32,733, of which 64 percent resulted in refusals.[5]

As for resettlement, it is "the organized movement of selected refugees from their first country of asylum to a third country for settlement and integration."[6] In the UK, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, Section 59, provides the legal context for resettlement in the UK. The UK’s resettlement program, implemented in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), offers the possibility for up to 750 refugees to be resettled in the UK each year.[7]

Refugees from Syria who managed to reach the UK did so either by applying for asylum or through resettlement programs, which are two different and separate systems. Between 2012 and 2015, 5,457 Syrian nationals were granted asylum in the UK,[8] and in 2015 "Syrian nationals were the fourth largest group claiming asylum in the UK” with 2,204 applicants.[9] In addition, 1,194 Syrian refugees were resettled in the UK that same year.[10]

UK response to the Refugee Crisis

The war in Syria naturally resulted in Palestinian refugees from Syria seeking protection outside the country. Just like Syrian nationals, Palestinian refugees from Syria were included in the UK's humanitarian aid policy. For example, in 2013, the UK’s International Development Minister announced that the UK will provide 15.5 million British pounds to UNRWA.[11] This humanitarian aid was to provide critical assistance to Palestinian refugees inside Syria and to those who had to flee once again to neighboring countries. However, Palestinian refugees from Syria who fled to the UK were not given the same treatment as Syrian nationals, despite the fact that they both came from the same place and experience. Accordingly, when applying for asylum, Palestinian refugees from Syria are included in the Palestinian nationals category and not the Syrian one.

Up to 2014, the UK's government policy in response to the Syrian refugee crisis was to give humanitarian aid to Syria's neighboring countries as opposed to accepting Syrian refugees for resettlement in the UK. However, the UK changed their policy after the recent encouragement from the UNHCR to use resettlement as a protection tool in response to the Syrian crisis. Thus, in early 2014 the UK government established the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Program (VPR) to provide selected Syrians with the opportunity to come to the UK. This program gave priority to victims of sexual violence and torture, and the elderly and disabled. In 2015, the UK extended the scheme to include a plan to resettle up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years. The refugees selected for resettlement are given five years Humanitarian Protection status,[12] which gives them access to public funds and permission to work.[13]

The UK's Vulnerable Person Resettlement Program defines resettlement as the selection and transfer of refugees from one state to another for the purpose of finding protection.[14] This new scheme resettled 1,194 Syrians in the UK in 2015.[15] However, Palestinian refugees from Syria are not included in the program. To this day, no Palestinian refugee from Syria has been resettled in the UK.[16] Richard Harrington, the previous Secretary of State for Syrian Refugees[17] stated:
Palestinian refugees from Syria who are now under the care of the UNRWA in Jordan or Lebanon, or who have sought refuge in Turkey and other neighboring countries and are under the care of the UNHCR, are not included in the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, as this scheme is only available for Syrian nationals.[18]
Since Jordan declared a non-admittance policy toward Palestinian refugees from Syria in 2013,[19] and Lebanon has effectively closed its borders to Palestinian refugees from Syria since May 2015,[20] Europe has become a destination for them. According to UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness, at least 60,000 Palestinian refugees have fled the region and are probably in Europe.[21] Moreover, as stated by the UK Home Office, "while Palestinians from Syria may be able to access UNRWA services in Lebanon and Jordan, they will generally not be able to access governmental services offered to other refugees."[22] Whether Palestinian refugees from Syria are protected by UNRWA or UNHCR, the UK has not considered them for resettlement.

Since Palestinian refugees from Syria are registered in the UK system like any other Palestinian, there is no way to determine the numbers of Palestinian refugees from Syria coming to the UK. In fact, on their application registration cards, their nationality is recorded as Palestinian Authority or PSE (Palestine). The statistics provided by the UK Home Office treat Palestinian applicants as a collective without taking country of residence into account. In recent years the number of pending Palestinian applications and detained asylum applicants has been increasing. For example, in 2015 around 600 applications of Palestinian nationals are still pending decisions.[23] According to international conventions, both Syrians and Palestinians fleeing Syria constitute forcibly displaced persons and refugees. However, the tables below show that it was only recently that a very small number of Palestinian refugees received some protected status in the UK.

BADIL sheds light on the plight of Palestinian refugees from Syria within the UK in new film

BADIL Resource Center is pleased to announce the release of our latest film production, ‘Fleeing the Same War’,  an international production that examines the British government’s policies and actions in relation to the emergency state of Palestinian refugees from Syria. - programavimo paslaugos ir mobiliosios aplikacijos

For further information see BADIL’s short documentary, Fleeing the Same War.

FleeingTheSameWar - الفرار من ذات الحرب from BADIL Resource Center on Vimeo.

Total Pending Total withdrawals Total refusals Grants of DL Grants of HP Grants of asylum Total grants Total Initial Decisions Total applications Year
140 53 170 18 1 11 30 200 180 2010
560 60 127 14 0 13 27 154 213 2011
498 34 77 3 0 19 22 99 156 2012
461 21 50 1 1 25 30 80 99 2013
644 12 56 2 5 23 31 87 157 2014
595 22 89 2 2 37 45 134 129 2015
448 9 48 0 0 16 17 65 102 Quarter 1,2,3 of 2016
Palestinian Detainees in the UK:
Child Asylum Detainees Adult Asylum Detainees Total Palestinian Detainees Year
0 74 92 2010
2 100 114 2011
2 68 79 2012
3 38 43 2013
0 40 45 2014
2 45 51 2015
0 20 21 Quarter 1,2,3 of 2016
*Lana Ramadan is a researcher at BADIL Resource Center. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in International Law and Human Rights from al-Quds Bard College, and a Master’s Degree in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and Political Science.


[1] Andrew Miller and Cynthia Orchard, "Protection in Europe for refugees from Syria," Refugee Studies Center University of Oxford, 2014, 65. "The main criterion for DFT cases is that they can be decided quickly. Particularly vulnerable applicants, such as pregnant women, those with mental and physical health problems, or those who were trafficked, are excluded from the DFT scheme. With the short time limit, the applications considered in DFT procedures should not have a level of complexity where legal advice, corroborative evidence or translation of documents is required. DFT cases have notoriously high refusal rates."
[2] Ibid.
[3] European Commission, "The Reform of the Dublin System,”. Available at: . "The Dublin regulation aims to ensure quick access to asylum procedures and the examination of an application in substance by a single, clearly determined EU Member State. The core principle under the current Dublin regime is that the responsibility for examining an asylum claim lies first and foremost with the Member State which played the greatest part in the applicant’s entry to the EU. In most cases this means it is the Member State of first entry. It can also be a Member State which has issued a visa or residence permit to a non-EU national, who then decides to stay and apply for asylum when this authorization expires. Family unity and the protection of unaccompanied minors are the main reasons to derogate from these rules."
Miller and Orchard, "Protection in Europe for refugees from Syria."
[5] Oliver Hawkins, "Asylum Statistics," Commons Briefing papers SN01403,, 20 December 2016, Available at:\.
[8] Ibid.  
[12] Operational Policy and Rules Unit, Operational Systems Management, Home Office, "Humanitarian Protection,", 15 May 2013, Available at:  "A person eligible for subsidiary protection means a third country national or a stateless person who does not qualify as a refugee but in respect of whom substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned, if returned to his or her country of origin, or in the case of a stateless person, to his or her country of former habitual residence, would face a real risk of suffering serious harm as defined in Article 15, and to whom Article 17(1) and (2) do not apply, and is unable, or, owing to such risk, unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country." Those granted Humanitarian Protection will be granted leave to enter or remain for a period of five years. There is an avenue for settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain) after 5 years of leave.
[13] Terry McGuinness, Commons Briefing papers SN06805, "Commons Library Briefing: Syrian refugees and the UK response," Research Briefings,, 10 June 2016,
[16] Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) and Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP), "Ensuring the UK Provides Equal Protection to Palestinian Refugees from Syria," August 2016, Available at:
[17] "Parliamentary under Secretary of State,", 2015-2016, Available at:  
[19] Human Rights Watch, "Not Welcome: Jordan's Treatment of Palestinians Escaping Syria," 7 August 2014, Available at:  
[20] UNRWA, "The Syria Crisis," 2016, Available at:
[22] UK Home Office, "Asylum Policy Instruction: Article 1D of the Refugee Convention: Palestinian refugees assisted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA),", 9 May 2016, Available at: .