Palestinian refugees represent the longest suffering and largest refugee population in the world today. There are approximately 7.2 million Palestinian refugees, equivalent to about 70% of the entire Palestinian population which is estimated at 10.7 million worldwide.
The Right to Return has a solid legal basis:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 13 affirms: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.”
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination[Article 5 (d)(ii)], states: “State parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination on all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of … the right to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return to one’s country.“
- The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights [Article 12(4)], states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”
- Consistent with International Law, The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. Paragraph 11 states: “the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
- UN General Assembly Resolution 194 has been affirmed by the UN over 110 times since its introduction in 1948 with universal consensus except for Israel and the U.S. This resolution was further clarified by UN General Assembly Resolution 3236 which reaffirms in Subsection 2: “the inalienable right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return.”
- 2,097,338 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA
- Unlike any other host country, Jordan granted Palestinian refugees full citizenship rights, except for 120,000 people who originally came from the Gaza Strip
- There are 10 official and three unofficial refugee camps in Jordan.
- The ten recognized Palestine refugee camps throughout the country accommodate nearly 370,000 Palestine refugees, or 18 per cent of the country total. Jordan hosts the largest number of Palestine refugees of all of the UNWRA fields.
- 449,957 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon.
- There are 12 official refugee camps
- Given their condition as stateless, Palestinians in Lebanon are denied many basic rights. For instance, they are barred from about 20 professions and have no access to public social services. Even access to health and educational services is limited, often rendering registered refugees heavily dependent on UNRWA.
- 526,744 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA.
- There are nine official and three unofficial camps.
- Palestinians enjoy the same rights as the Syrian population, barring citizenship rights.
- 1,258,559 Palestinians out of Gaza's 1.8 million population are UNRWA-registered refugees.
- There are eight UNRWA-administered camps in the Gaza Strip.
- Israel's occupation since 1967 and the ongoing blockade and siege on the Gaza Strip lead to the population suffering severe economic problems.
- UNRWA's activities in the Gaza Strip have been severely restricted by the blockade.
- The West Bank is home to 762,288 registered refugees.
- There are 19 overcrowded and poorly serviced camps.
- The ongoing occupation and military checkpoints and closures implemented by the Israeli army put a huge strain on the West Bank economy.
While most Palestinians were driven out, some remained in what became Israel. Although citizens of the new state, they were subject to Israeli military rule until 1966.
Today, Palestinian citizens of Israel comprise nearly 20 percent of Israel's population. They have the right to vote and run for office, but more than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews. Nearly one-quarter of Israel's Palestinians are "internally displaced" persons, unable to return to the homes and lands that were taken from them.
- Palestinians fled to Egypt during the 1948, 1956 and 1967 wars.
- It is estimated that there are up to 50,000 Palestinians in Egypt.
- However, they do not have permanent residency rights, nor can they register as refugees.
- Up until May 2006, UNHCR estimated that 34,000 Palestinians lived in Iraq. Today, only 11,544 UNHCR-registered Palestinian refugees remain.
- Palestinians have been targeted and scores have been killed by militant groups since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. As such, many Palestinians who were living in Iraq have suffered forced displacement twice: once from their original homes, and then from their host country.
- Most fleeing Palestinians have sought refuge in neighboring Syria and Jordan.
Hamas sees in the right of return as a non-assignable, inalienable right with millions of Palestinians scattered all over the globe waiting for their lands to be liberated and their hopes to be restored. On several different occasions, Hamas stated that the right of return is non-negotiable and that it should be incorporated within all short, medium and long term strategies.
** Refugee figures date to May 2015