Palestinians presently constitute the largest and most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Paradoxically, they are also the most heavily-aided nation per capita. However, they remain without a permanent resolution and without a state.
Whether termed as the Nakba ("the catastrophe") or an exodus, the Palestinian refugee crisis started in 1948 when 700,000 or so Palestinians fled their homes or were ousted by Israeli forces from their communities in present day Israel.
The second wave of refugees emanated from the 1967 war when around 280,000 to 325,000 Palestinians were displaced from their lands that had been under Jordanian control until the beginning of the war. By the end of the six days, Israel had occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and the Sinai, thereby redrawing borders and once again expelling Palestinian living in these regions. Most of these Palestinians fled to the West Bank and Gaza, which became the occupied Palestinian territories.
A REALISTIC NUMBER
Significant differences exist between Israeli and Palestinian estimates of the actual number of refugees and the numbers provides by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA), tasked with providing services to Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics quotes the total number of refugees at seven million with an additional 450,000 classified as internally displaced persons (IDP). Due to the lack of a comprehensive registration system it is difficult to obtain exact numbers. According to UNRWAzzz*zs records, there are 4.5 million registered refugees since 1948. However, this number does not include an estimated 1.5 million refugees displaced in 1948 who did not register and an additional wave of 950,000 refugees and IDPs as a result of the 1967 war.
RIGHTS UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW
The rights of Palestinian refugees and IDPs are explicitly stated under international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, UN General Assembly Resolution 194
and UN Security Council Resolution 237
Generally, the term Palestinian refugee refers to those Palestinians who were displaced from their places of origin in British Mandate Palestine (present day Israel and the 1967 occupied Palestinian territory) and are unable to exercise their basic human right to return to their homes and properties.
Internally displaced persons on the other hand are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, and violations of human rights, and who have not crossed an internationally-recognized state border.
A PROTRACTED CRISIS
One of the glaring distinctions in relation to the conventional international approach to refugees is that Palestinian refugees are not protected by the international refugee regime and United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. Instead, UNRWA was formed by the UN General Assembly in 1949 as a specialized organization, solely responsible for Palestinian refugees of the Near East.
Although it is difficult to predict the outcome of Palestinian refugees had they been protected under UNHCR, one perspective is that the principles of the international refugee regime would have prevented a protracted refugee situation because of stronger mandates and greater pressure on neighboring Arab countries to integrate refugees.