NGOs urge UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): “Provide immediate effective protection and find rights-based durable solutions for Palestinian refugees, including voluntary repatriation”
For Immediate Release
No. (E/17/07) 15 October 2007
BADIL, Geneva: Some 270 NGOs from around the world reminded member states of the UNHCR Executive Committee that, “Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) constitute the largest and longest-standing unresolved caseload of refugees and displaced persons in the world today. NGOs urge the international community to increase efforts to find voluntary durable solutions to their plight [...], including local integration, resettlement and voluntary repatriation.”
In two statements delivered to the annual UNHCR Executive Committee (Excom) Meeting in early October, NGOs recognized the generosity of Syria, Egypt and Jordan, who are hosting thousands of refugees from Iraq, and called upon States to pursue their efforts to ensure that the approximately 15,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq and on its borders “are provided with temporary protection, and access to durable solutions [...] In cooperation with UNHCR, all Palestinian refugees from Iraq should be registered with UNRWA as a matter of high priority.”
The Excom, UNHCR's governing body, however, has yet to engage. The Committee is composed of 70 member states from all continents. It includes UNHCR's major donors (United States, European Commission, Japan, Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, a.o.), as well as several Arab states and Israel. The Excom has been unable, for political reasons, to reach a consensus for engagement based on Palestinian refugees' right of return to their homes of origin located in Israel or the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territory under Israel's effective control.
UNHCR currently holds that its mandate is limited to Palestinian refugees outside the area of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), such as Palestinians refugees in/from Iraq. UNHCR-Israel does not include Palestinian refugees in its mandate. Arab states are reluctant to cooperate with a UNHCR unable to hold Israel to account and ensure equal burden sharing with rich western states. Thus most Arab and western states – for different reasons - have been unwilling to provide temporary protection or resettlement slots for Palestinian refugees from Iraq. Only Syria, Jordan, Canada, Brazil, Chile and Norway have agreed to host limited numbers.
The result is a situation where most Palestinian refugees in/from Iraq cross borders on their own into neighboring Arab and other countries where they find themselves with little or no protection by states and agencies. Others remain stuck in Iraq or at its borders in grave danger and under inhuman conditions.
Meanwhile, UNHCR is pressured for rapid humanitarian solutions and in danger of violating its own standards. “Protection” of Palestinian refugees is negotiated with states already over-burdened with refugees, and with states threatened with armed conflict and generating refugees of their own. In this context, BADIL calls upon UNHCR to uphold its principle of voluntariness, as 300 Palestinian refugees stranded at the Syrian-Iraqi border have already turned down Sudan's offer to host them, explaining that they are unwilling to move to Sudan that may soon face civil war and where conflict in the Darfur region has already left the country with some 2.5 million refugees of its own.
BADIL calls upon civil society organizations, in particular NGOs working with UNHCR, to continue joint efforts for states, members of the UNHCR Excom, to:
· Provide immediate temporary protection slots to displaced Palestinian refugees and IDPs;
· Enhance protection efforts through inter-agency cooperation, in particular among UNRWA and UNHCR;
· Develop a comprehensive global protection regime for Palestinian refugees and IDPs in which repatriation, the preferred durable solution of UNHCR and the Palestinian refugee and IDPs, is recognized and promoted as their primary durable solution under international law and UN resolutions.
60 years after their original displacement, Palestinian refugees and IDPs are entitled to an international protection regime which can prevent renewed displacement, protect during displacement and promote durable solutions based on their right to return.
For more on the NGO statements to the 2007 UNHCR Consultations with NGOs see: