Summary of Findings: Badil's Survey of Palestinian Refugees and IDPs 2008

1. Scope of Palestinian Displacement 2008
The Palestinian refugee and IDP population described here comprises the total estimated number of Palestinians and their descendants whose “country of origin” is the former Palestine (now divided into Israel and the OPT), who have been displaced within or outside the borders of this area, and who do not have access to voluntary durable solutions and/or reparation, including the right to return to their homes of origin and the right to repossess their properties.


By the end of 2008, at least 67 percent (7.1 million) of the entire, worldwide Palestinian population (10.6 million) were forcibly displaced persons.Among them were at least 6.6 million Palestinian refugees and 455,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Only 33% of the entire Palestinian population worldwide have never been displaced. The latter reside in Israel and the OPT.

1948 Palestinian refugees 5.7 million (80.5% of all displaced Palestinians);
persons displaced in 1948 (the Nakba) and their descendants, including:
  • UNRWA-registered refugees 4.7 million
  • Refugees not registered with UNRWA 1.0 million
1967 Palestinian refugees 940,000 (13.5%)
Persons displaced for the first time from their homes and country in the context of the 1967 war.
IDPs in Israelsince 1948 335,000 (4.7%)
Persons displaced in the 1948 Nakba, as well as those displaced subsequently. No reliable data available for the total number of persons displaced in 2007-2008.
IDPs in the OPT since 1967 129,000 (1.3%)
Persons displaced in the OPT during the 1967 war and subsequently. This number includes displaced refugees (approximately 37,000).

2. Distribution
Today, Palestinian refugees are living in forced exile in many parts of the world. Despite the changes in the pattern of distribution of Palestinian refugees over the last 60 years, however, the majority of the refugees still live within 100 km of the borders of Israel and the 1967 OPT, where their homes of origin are located.

Most refugees do not live in camps: UNRWA-registered refugees in camps comprise 29.4% of the total UNRWA registered refugee population and 20.7% of the total Palestinian refugee population. In addition, hundreds of thousands Palestinian refugees reside in one of the at least seventeen unofficial camps in the OPT, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Most Palestinian refugees (approximately 79%) live outside UNRWA’s 58 camps. Many West Bank villages and towns, for example, host a significant refugee population. There are approximately 100 localities in the occupied West Bank in which 1948 refugees comprise more than 50% of the total population.

Between 1997 and 2007, the proportion of refugees living in the West Bank showed a significant change in certain governorates. For instance, the percentage of refugees in Jerusalem decreased from 40.8% to 31.4%; the refugee population increased in Qalqilya from 39.9% to 47.0%, and in Jenin from 28.8% to 32.8%.
Table 2: Estimates of the Palestinian Refugees and IDPs Worldwide, 2008
The Netherlandsa
Occupied Palestinian Territories (IDPs)g
Occupied Gaza Stripd
Occupied West Bankd
Other Gulf countriesc
Other Arab countriesc
Saudi Arabiac
United Kingdoma
United Statesa
Sources:Most host countries outside the Middle East do not classify Palestinian refugees as refugees in terms of asylum statistics. Hence, the numbers listed are estimates provided by the Palestinian communities in these countries, not official statistics.
a. Information estimates for Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States were provided by the Oxford University Civitas Foundations of Participation Project database. See . Estimates for 2008 are calculated on the basis of a growth rate of 1.5%.
b.The number for Jordan is based on Living Conditions Among Palestinian Refugees and Displaced in Jordan, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science, 1997. The number of Palestinian refugees in 1996 amounted to 1.843,000; estimates for the period 1997–2008 are calculated according to a growth rate of 2.5%. Refugees constitute 85% of the total estimated number of Palestinians in Jordan (2.8 million).
c. Data for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries, Lebanon, Syria and other Arab countries is derived from Abstract of Palestine 2005, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2006, with calculations for 2008 based on a growth rate of 2.5%. While PCBS provides data on the global distribution of the Palestinian people, rather than refugees only, it can be assumed that the all of Palestinians living outside historical Palestine are refugees. Figures are indicative rather than conclusive.
d. Data for the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip represent UNRWA-registered refugees at mid-2008 as stated by the UNRWA Headquarters Public Information Office, Gaza, 2008.
e. Data for Egypt and Libya is based on the estimated number of Palestinians of concern to the UNHCR at the end of 2005. The calculation for 2008 is based on a growth rate of 2.5%.
f. The number of Palestinian refugees in Iraq is unclear. Palestinian refugees numbering 22,700 were registered with the UNHCR in 2003, but registration has stopped as a result of the ongoing armed conflict. The UNHCR estimated that approximately 34,000 Palestinian refugees resided in Iraq in 2003. However, by the end of 2006, it was estimated that no more than 15,000 Palestinians remained in Iraq. The whereabouts of the 15,000 persons who have left is unknown. See UNHCR, Aide-Memoire: Protecting Palestinians in Iraq and Seeking Humanitarian Solutions for Those Who Fled the Country, Geneva, December 2006. Data for 2008 is based on 2007 global trends of UNHCR.
g. The number of IDPs in Israel and the OPT is derived from Table 2.1.


3. Data Sources
There is no single authoritative source for the global Palestinian refugee and IDP population. Available data on the size of the Palestinian refugee and IDP populations is uneven and shifting, primarily due to the absence of a comprehensive registration system, frequent forced displacement, and the lack of a uniform definition of a Palestinian refugee.Internal displacement is also difficult to track because ceasefire lines have changed frequently and there is no internationally recognized border between Israel and the 1967 OPT.

BADIL estimates of the Palestinian refugee and IDP populations are calculated based on UNRWA data combined with data from the 2007 PCBS population census in the OPT and population growth projections.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has registered 1948 Palestine refugees since 1950; its records cover 75% of this group of refugees. UNRWA administers registration of Palestinian refugees as part of its relief and social services program. UNRWA registration data is not statistically valid,as reporting is voluntary. UNRWA has never carried out a comprehensive census of all Palestinian refugees under its mandate.

1. Until 1993, refugees wishing to register with UNRWA had to meet requirements of need and initial flight in 1948 into a country where UNRWA operated. Revision of UNRWA's eligibility and registration criteria in 1993 eliminated these two requirements, which led to the registration of some previously-undocumented Palestinian refugees.

2. In 2006, UNRWA issued new consolidated eligibility and registration instructions. Since then, services were extended to children of registered refugee women married to non-refugees. These children, however, are not registered as refugees in UNRWA’s registration records.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) maintains records of Palestinian refugees who are outside UNRWA’s area of operations and are eligible for protection. Registration with UNRWA and the UNHCR are not mutually exclusive; i.e., Palestinian refugees outside UNRWA’s area of operations may be registered with both.
  • In general, the UNHCR has registered only a very minor portion of the Palestinian refugee population. At the end of 2008, only 342,681 Palestinian refugees were registered with the UNHCR as a population of concern. The majority resided in Saudi Arabia (240,025), Egypt (70,174) and Iraq (12,302) and Kuwait (6,000).
  • For political reasons, UNHCR records refer to the country of origin of Palestinian refugees as the “occupied Palestinian territory.” It is not possible, therefore, to identify how many Palestinian refugees registered with UNHCR are 1948 refugees, 1967 refugees, or Palestinians displaced from former Palestine after 1967. Palestinian IDPs in Israel and OPT are not included in the UNHCR data regarding IDPs worldwide.

Census data and population growth projections represent an additional source of estimates of the refugee and IDP populations with numerous limitations:


1. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) has conducted two OPT population censuses in 1997 and 2007 which include refugees as a category, as well as questions regarding forced displacement. PCBS, however, has limited access to Palestinian populations in the OPT, Israel and abroad;

2. Israel (ICBS) publishes little statistical data about its Palestinians citizens and does not keep separate records of internally displaced Palestinians;

3. Few Arab host countries carry out a regular census of their resident refugee population. Some countries, such as Jordan, include Palestinians as a census category, but this data is not publicly available.

4. In North America and Europe, Palestinian asylum-seekers are often included in a general category of “stateless” persons, or classified according to their place of birth, or the host country that issued their travel documents.