14 March 2016
Before the conflict in Syria began in March 2011 around 560,000 registered Palestinian refugees lived in the country and approximately 70,000 more Palestinians were unregistered. Palestinians were well integrated into Syrian society and enjoyed many of the same rights as Syrian citizens, including access to state healthcare. Following five years of civil war in Syria more than half of the Palestinian population have lost their homes and nearly all are in dire need of aid. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) they are among the most vulnerable of the refugees fleeing Syria.
The situation is particularly dire in Yarmouk refugee camp, which was home to 148,500 registered Palestinian refugees before the conflict began. Yarmouk has been almost continuously besieged since 2013 and in April 2015 ISIS-linked militants invaded large areas of the camp, forcing out and killing many of its civilian inhabitants. Estimates from local activist groups are that approximately 3,000-5,000 people remain in the camp, without access to regular food supplies, clean water or healthcare.
An estimated 110,000 Palestinians have fled Syria since 2011 according to UNRWA. Approximately 17,000 of these people now live in Jordan and around 45,000 in Lebanon, many in urgent need of assistance.
In these countries Palestinian refugees cannot register with UNHCR and instead rely on UNRWA for healthcare, education and often food and cash support. Almost all Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in Lebanon are reliant on UNRWA aid as a significant source of income and conditions for Palestinians in Lebanon were already dire even before 2011. However in 2015, cuts to international donor support forced UNRWA to suspend its vital housing cash assistance to PRS.
The inability of Palestinian refugees to access UNHCR services also means that they are excluded from UNHCR’s data, making it much more difficult to assess their needs and understand exactly where refugees are being forced into extreme conditions. Jordan effectively closed its borders to Palestinian refugees early in the conflict, and Lebanon followed suit in May 2014, leaving many with nowhere to turn.
MAP believes that the UK’s humanitarian response to the conflict in Syria must provide equal protection for all refugees, including Palestinians. Ultimately, the right of return for Palestinian refugees – as enshrined in UN Resolution 194 – is inalienable, and realisation of this right would provide safe refuge for those fleeing the conflict. Until such a time as this is possible, equal protection for Palestinians and Syrians fleeing the conflict should include equal access to opportunities for temporary or permanent resettlement in safe countries.