New Threats, Existing Solutions: Palestinian Refugees 64 years on

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On this World Refugee Day, we, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council, call on the international community of states and multilateral agencies to close the protection gaps exacerbating the plight of Palestinian refugees. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the term protection gap refers to the differences between what refugees are entitled to in accordance with international refugee and human rights law, and what the reality is on the ground. In 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 55/76 and agreed to have World Refugee Day coincide with Africa Refugee Day on 20 June to bring attention to refugees, their livelihoods, and the conditions that wrought their displacement. On this day, it is important to reiterate that closing the protection gap afflicting Palestinian refugees necessitates the application of international protection and assistance standards to them without exception. Although the United Nations recognized its “special responsibility” to “Palestine Refugees” in 1948, the international community has failed to implement the protection system particularly designed in UN General Assembly Resolution 194. As a result of said failure, stemming from a lack of political will among nations, the forcible displacement of Palestinians has come to characterize Palestinian life; for them, the Nakba (Catastrophe) is not a moment in history, it is an ongoing crisis.

Palestinian refugees are unique only insofar as their condition and treatment by the United Nations preceded the establishment of the now-comprehensive UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Otherwise, like all other refugees they endure displacement, dispossession, vulnerability, and suspended livelihoods. For the past six decades, as UN agencies have come and dissipated, as political solutions have emerged and collapsed, Palestinian refugees have remained steadfast in their vision to return home. The approximately 7 million Palestinian refugees cannot realize their rights nor achieve their vision without the institutional support of the UN agencies on which all refugees are forced to depend. Similarly, Palestinian refugees cannot enjoy human rights without the political will of States necessary to ensure and enforce them.

Unlike other refugees that benefit from international protection, humanitarian aid and legal-political protection, Palestinians have endured a protection gap since the 1950s. On the heels of their forcible displacement beginning in 1947, the UN created two agencies to provide protection to Palestinian refugees: the Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), which addressed legal and political issues, and the Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which focused on humanitarian aid. Upon failing to fulfill its mandate and achieve conciliation between the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the UNCCP became defunct as early as the 1950s when it presented that a political deadlock impeded its mission. Although UNRWA’s mandate has incrementally expanded to provide ad-hoc legal and political protection, since there still exists a noticeable gap in international protection available to Palestinian refugees. This gap is especially apparent in the lack of temporary protection status available to Palestinians during mass exodus, the absence of political will and the absence of an agency to advocate for durable solutions, including repatriation and compensation, on refugees’ behalf.

As a result, sixty-four years onwards, Palestinian refugees have become a case study of a prolonged refugee situation and have tragically become a political target among Israeli officials and other governments. The Kirk Amendment, which passed unanimously in the United States Senate in May 2012, and was spearheaded by lobbying group AIPAC and an Israeli Member of Knesset, demonstrates the extent of this vilification. The Kirk Amendment mandated that the U.S. State Department ‘count’ the number of Palestinian recipients of UNRWA aid who were themselves forcibly expelled from Palestine in 1948 or 1967 and to distinguish them from the descendants of refugees, in blatant contravention of the standard definition of Palestinian refugees. The Congressional amendment underscores Israeli attempts to eliminate UNRWA, circumvent international law on the matter, unilaterally truncate the number of Palestinian refugees and abridge the right of return enshrined in UN Resolution 194. These circumstances make glaringly apparent that Palestinian refugees remain in need of international protection to avert such attacks on their individual and collective rights.

In light of the above, we, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council recommend the following:

To ensure that state signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention incorporate article 1D of the convention into national legislation, interpret and apply it properly in cases involving Palestinian asylum seekers.

Increase the budget of UNRWA dedicated to refugees’ assistance in line with the average annual growth rate of the refugee population and promote the quantities of services in line with refugees’ needs.

Palestinian Liberation Organization:
To reactivate the Department of Refugees Affairs and to strengthen its capacity to effectively meet refugees’ needs and demands; to protect and promote the rights-based solution through seeking the full implementation of UNGA Resolution 194.

To adopt a UN – bid and international campaign aims at determining UNRWA’s annual budget of under UNGA, not dependent on State free and/or conditional contributions.

Arab States: To fully implement, without reservations, the 1965 Protocol on the Treatment of Palestinian Refugees and the 1992 Cairo Declaration and to develop existing national and regional instruments with the aim of ensuring protection and human rights for Palestinian refugees.

All Governments: Increase financial support to UNRWA; ensure effective protection to refugees seeking asylum; support a rights-based approach, and activate UN intervention and accountability mechanisms to meet international standards for assisting and protecting Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons from, during and after displacement.