key_gazaThe Syrian conflict, characterized by the International Committee for the Red Cross as a civil war, has raged for nearly sixteen months and caused the displacement of 1,500,000 persons.Syria’s 500,000 Palestinian refugees, who constitute nearly 2.8% of its population, are among those who have endured forcible displacement as a result of the conflict.

Unlike their Syrian counterparts, however, Palestinian refugees have neither received favorable treatment in neighboring countries nor has their humanitarian condition garnered significant attention. The BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights urges UN agencies, including UNHCR and UNRWA to provide equal attention to, support for, and protection of Palestinian refugees who are currently fleeing Syria.

Although Palestinian leaders have insisted upon Palestinian neutrality, Palestinian localities have been targeted repeatedly. Most recently, on 13 July 2012,  the Damascus neighborhood of Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria and home to 144,000 refugees as well as Syrians was a battleground of the conflicting parties in Syria, which resulted in the killing of 15 Palestinians. In early July, the situation in the southern city of Daraa harmed more than two-thirds of the 17,500 refugees living there.  On 15 August 2011, the heavy gunfire in and surrounding the area of the El Ramel district in Latakia resulted in deaths and casualties among the Palestinian refugee population and temporarily displaced its 10,000 residents.

The condition of Palestinian statelessness makes them acutely vulnerable in the Middle East where they have repeatedly endured forced secondary displacement in the midst of political crisis. Consider what Tunisia and Libya Palestine refugees faced there as a result of the internal situation in 2011 and 2012, the expulsion of 400,000 refugees from Kuwait in the aftermath of the Gulf War; the Libyan banishment of 30,000 Palestinians at the Salloum border in 1995; and the systematic forced displacement of Iraq’s Palestinian population

following the U.S.’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Significantly, approximately 3,000 of those Palestinian refugees who fled Iraq for Syria are still awaiting resolution to their forced displacement from Iraq. They are now being exposed to tertiary forced displacement in Syria and are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

Despite Syria’s favorable decades-long treatment of Palestinian refugees, the current crisis has undermined the population’s cohesion within the country. The instability and the current deterioration of the security situation necessitate taking practical

measures to ensure protection for Palestinian refugees to prevent a new wave of forced displacement.

In early July, Human Rights Watch reported that the Jordanian authorities have forcibly returned Palestinian refugees to Syria in violation of the customary law prohibition on non-refoulment. Moreover, since April 2012, Jordanian authorities have arbitrarily detained Palestinian seeking refuge in a holding center at its border giving them no other options but to return to Syria. This is in contrast to nearly 27,000 Syrian refugees who have been granted entry into Jordan and can move about freely within the country once they pass a security screening and find a sponsor.

One Palestinian refugee who fled Syria and is currently detained explains that to visit her ailing husband who is being treated at a hospital in Irbid for injuries sustained during shelling in Dera’a, she is accompanied by police from the camp: “It is humiliating, I feel like a criminal. I am embarrassed; I tell people the police are there for my own protection.”

Palestinian refugees are entitled to full protection until they are afforded reparation including repatriation/return, restitution, and compensation. Short of that, immediate attention and care must be given to this vulnerable population in Syria today. In order to afford Palestinain refugees fleeing Syria adequate protection, BADIL urges UN agencies to:

1.   Highlight the plight of the Palestinian refugees who are enduring forced displacement as a result of the conflict in Syria;

2.   Urge the Syrian authorities along with all parties in the conflict to keep the confrontations away from the Palestinian refugee camps which have become a refuge to internally displaced Syrians and to exercise utmost restraint in order to prevent the forced displacement of Palestinian refugees.

3.   Provide medical relief and food supplies to Palestinian refugees who are internally displaced within Syria without discrimination from their Syrian counterparts;

4.   Urge Jordan to end its arbitrary detention of Palestinian refugees and permit them entry;

5.   Condemn Jordan’s violation of the customary law prohibition against non-refoulment; and

6.   Collaborate to identify and achieve durable solutions for those Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria, which requires the exercise of greater political will.