In 2005, there were approximately 6.8 million Palestinian refugees and 400,000 internally displaced Palestinians representing 70 percent of the entire Palestinian population worldwide (9.7 million). The legal status of some 400,000 additional Palestinians is unclear, but they too are likely to be refugees. Palestinian refugees represent the longest protracted refugee situation worldwide [1].

BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

Israel’s denial of refugee return, combined with the lack of international political will to enforce international law and relevant UN resolutions and the absence of an effective protection regime continue to prevent durable solutions. New Palestinian refugees and IDPs are created by Israel’s policies, in particular its illegal Wall under construction in the occupied West Bank (including eastern Jerusalem).

These and many more detailed findings about the current situation of Palestinian refugees and IDP are presented in the Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons 2004-2005 released  by BADIL on the occasion of World Refugee Day. The Survey is based on information released by UNWRA, UNHCR and a variety of other official and non-governmental sources [2].

Although most Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA (4.3 million) and/or with UNHCR (350,600), the lack of a systematic register for all Palestinian refugees continues to obstruct accurate assessment of the size and protection needs of this population. All data regarding internally displaced Palestinians are estimates as neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority or the United Nations are monitoring internal displacement in Israel and the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).

Palestinian refugees in 2005

Six million Palestinians are so-called 1948 refugees, i.e. persons displaced from Palestine/Israel between 1947 and 1949 and their descendants. The majority (4.3 million) are registered with and receive assistance from UNRWA, others are not eligible or did not register for assistance with UNRWA (1.7 million).

Approximately 834,000 Palestinians are so-called 1967 refugees, i,e, persons displaced for the first time in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and their dependents. Although entitled to assistance from UNRWA,  they are not registered with the agency.

The third category includes some 400,000 Palestinians displaced after the 1967 war who are neither 1948 nor 1967 refugees. They are outside former Palestine and unable due to ongoing forced displacement (revocation of residency, denial of family reunification, deportation, etc.) or unwilling to return there owing to a well-founded fear of persecution. While their legal status is unclear, most are likely to be refugees.

Palestinian IDP in 2005

1948 IDP are Palestinians displaced between 1947-1949 who have remained in the area that became the state of Israel in 1948 and their descendants, i.e. approximately  355,000 persons today.

1967 IDP are Palestinians internally displaced in the OPT during and after the 1967 war as a result of house demolition, revocation of residency rights in Jerusalem and construction of colonies and related infrastructure. Based on conservative estimates, their number was 57,000 persons in 2005, including 15,000 Palestinians already displaced by the construction of Israel’s Wall and associated regime in the occupied West Bank  (including eastern Jerusalem).

Where do Palestinian refugees live today?

Most Palestinian refugees continue to live in the Middle East within 100 km of the borders of Israel and the OPT where their homes of origin are located. Over one-quarter of the total Palestinian refugee and displaced population still resides in areas of former Palestine (Israel and OPT).

Most Palestinian refugees do not live in refugee camps. Only 21.3 percent of all 1948 refugees (29.7 percent of all UNRWA-registered refugees) reside in the 59 camps serviced by UNRWA in the OPT, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Palestinian refugees (3 percent) also reside in at least 17 non-official camps in the OPT, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. At least 800,000 Palestinians have left the Middle East in search of safety and stability in Australia, Europe and the Americas; most of them are refugees and/or stateless persons.

A protracted refugee situation, no solution, multiple and new displacement

Ending the protracted Palestinian refugee situation will require further strengthening of the current inter-agency (UNRWA-UNHCR, a.o.) protection regime, as well as political will among the powerful western governments and the United Nations to engage Israel on its obligation to faciliate the return of Palestinian refugees. Until this happens, the international community will be called upon to render emergency aid, assistance and protection to ever more Palestinians displaced and rendered homeless as a result of occupation, colonization and armed conflict.

Major causes of Palestinian displacement in 2004, 2005 were the ongoing occupation and armed conflict in Iraq and Israel’s policies of house demolition and land confiscation in the OPT. Israel’s Wall in the occupied West Bank alone, for example, has already displaced some 15,000 Palestinians. It is likely to deprive 70,000 ïž– 100,000 Palestinians of their current legal status as residents of occupied eastern Jerusalem and may lead to the displacement of the approximately 49,000 Palestinians currently living in the closed military areas between the Wall and the 1949 cease-fire line (Green Line) between Israel and the OPT.

A similar displacement-inducing pattern is visible in the Jordan Valley where new Israeli permit requirements restrict Palestinian access. Inside Israel, urban development plans aim to achieve a Jewish population of 1.5 million in the Galilee and 1 million in the Naqab (Negev) by 2010 and are causing the forcible displacement of Palestinian communities.


[1] See also: UNHCR, The State of the World’s Refugees 2006
[2] The BADIL Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons 2004-2005 (230 pages, English) is composed of six chapers examining history, demography, living conditions, assistance, protection and the search for durable solutions and includes a set of recommendations for a rights-based approach to the Palestinian refugee question.  Copies of the Survey will become available shortly for Euro 10 plus shipping cost. (Please allow at least three weeks for delivery.) Orders to