Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Palestinian Refugees from Syria: Lost and
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 8, 2012
The official position of Arab nations is unambiguous: solidarity
with Palestine is paramount. But facts on the ground point to a disturbingly
different reality, one in which Palestinians are mistreated beyond any
rational justification in various Arab countries. The worst-fated among them
are stateless refugees, who have for decades been granted only precarious
legal status. In times of crisis thee refugees have repeatedly found
themselves in a state of legal and political limbo.
At the recent
Non-Aligned Movement summit held in Tehran, Arab leaders spoke with the same
ardent passion about justice for the Palestinians. One Arab Emir warned that
“preoccupation with issues of the Arab Spring…should not distract us from
the Arab central cause of Palestine.” He labored to count all Israeli
violations of Palestinian rights, as heads of states nodded in agreement.
Absent from the speech, however, was any reference to the ongoing suffering
of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries, where, arguably, Israel has no
While there is no question that displaced Syrian refugees are
going through a truly horrific experience during the civil war, the fate of
Palestinian refugees is markedly worse. This is because Palestinians do not
have the basic rights that passport-holding Syrian citizens do. ‘Stuck’,
‘stranded’ and ‘imprisoned’ are only some of the terms used to describe the
state of Palestinian refugees, ill-treated and subjugated by none other than
their ‘Arab brethren’.
Due to geographic necessity, thousands of
Palestinian refugees are escaping the war to nearby borders in both Jordan
and Lebanon. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has registered
nearly 5,000 fleeing refugees. But the number is likely much higher and will
continue to grow as fighting escalates.
There are nearly half a
million Palestinian refugees in Syria. Despite all attempts at sparing them
the bloody outcomes of the conflict, they have still become embroiled in the
fight. Regional powers desperate to gain ground in Syria have used their
media to exploit the Palestinian issue, knowing well the sentimental value
of the Palestinian narrative within the larger Arab discourse. The outcome
has been devastating, and many Palestinians have been on the run for nearly
a year and a half. Areas with a concentration of Palestinian refugees are no
longer neutral territories. Despite pleas and assurances, Palestinian
refugees in Syria remain most vulnerable.
In Jordan, hundreds of
Palestinian refugees who fled Syria have been crammed into a poorly equipped
living facility known as Cyber City, about 90km north of the capital, Amman.
Human Rights Watch and other organizations have decried the mistreatment of
refugees in Cyber City, reporting forced deportations back to Syria, and the
prisoner-like status of those who have remained in Jordan.
In a July
4 report, ‘Jordan: Bias at the Syria Border’, Human Rights Watch claimed
that those fortunate enough not to be deported are still threatened with
deportation. “Since April 2012, the authorities have also arbitrarily
detained Palestinians fleeing Syria in a refugee holding center without any
options for release other than return to Syria,” stated the report.
One Cyber City resident, Samir, told UN humanitarian news network, IRIN: “It
has been quite bad living like a prisoner, especially when you see other
people come and go but you are trapped.” According to the report,
“Palestinian refugees from Syria feel abandoned” and Palestinian refugees of
Cyber City cannot cross over 30 meters from the main building.
of the stories imparted by Human Rights Watch are very disturbing to say the
least. The organization acknowledges that Jordan has not signed or ratified
the 1951 Refugee Convention; it is still required under international human
rights law to respect the principle of non-refoulement, which “prohibits
countries from sending anyone back to a country where their life or freedom
would be threatened.” However, the phenomenon is reportedly recurring in the
case of Palestinian refugees.
The situation is Lebanon is equally
distressing. Margaret Besheer wrote from Beirut on the double misery of
Palestinian refugees fleeing to Lebanon, mostly seeking shelter in the slums
of the Shatilla refugee camp. There are 455,000 registered Palestinian
refugees in Lebanon who are mostly distributed among 12 refugee camps
throughout the country and subsisting in terrible conditions.
Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees are already victims of a host of
discriminatory laws, one can only imagine the dilemma of newly arriving
refugees. Ibtisam’s family shares one room with eight other people in the
Shatilla camp. “We are three families staying in one room. What can we do?
We escaped from the killing and shelling and now we are living like this.”
Ibtisam can be considered lucky for being allowed entry in the first
place. However, unlike other refugees from Syria, Palestinians who are
permitted to enter are expected to renew their permit on a monthly basis -
at a cost of 50,000 LBP (US$33), an unaffordable feat for families lacking
access to proper food or health care.
Many are not even fortunate
enough to be able to leave Syria in the first place. According to NGO worker
Rawan Nassar, families are forced to deposit large sums of money to obtain
permission from authorities. The poor are naturally denied an exit permit,
and some families risk their entire lifesavings to escape. Once at the
Lebanon border, even more bribing is necessary. “I saw a Palestinian woman
at the border, who did not know anyone in Lebanon and she was forced to pay
$300 in bribes, $40 for each child,” a Syrian eyewitness told IRIN.
While hostility towards Palestinian refugees is rooted in histories laden
with civil wars and conflicts, it is hard to justify the attitude of UN
refugee agency, UNHCR, which manifestly differentiates between refugees of
other countries and Palestinian refugees. The latter are supposedly the sole
responsibility of UNRWA, which has only a tiny relief budget that is unable
to keep up with even the most basic demands of those who bother to register.
The crisis ensuing from Palestinian refugees escaping regional conflict
is not a new phenomenon, as wars in Iraq, Kuwait and Lebanon have
demonstrated in the past. The tragedy is multiplied, however, because no
real, long-term solution has been put in place despite the recurring
Meanwhile, official speech decrying
Israeli crimes continues unabated, with little attention paid to crimes
committed elsewhere. This results only in the same disheartening outcome.
One refugee was quoted in UN news as saying: “People come and take
pictures and speak with us, but they all leave at the end.” Such is the
plight of the Palestinian refugees, sixty-four years after the Nakba.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London.)