From the BADIL Refugee Survey 2008-2009: Secondary Forced Displacement in Host Countries - An Overview

From the BADIL Refugee Survey 2008-2009: Secondary Forced Displacement in Host Countries - An Overview The destruction of Nahr el Bared refugee camp. Lebanon September 2007 (Photo courtesy of

Many Palestinians who sought refuge outside their homeland experienced further forced displacement. With their right to a nationality, identity and travel document denied by Israel, they became stateless refugees[1] who have been particularly vulnerable to the impacts of armed conflicts and human rights violations in their respective host countries.

In the 1950s, Arab Gulf oil-producing states expelled striking Palestinian workers. When factions within the PLO challenged the power of the Hashemite Kingdom in 1970, vast numbers of Palestinians were expelled (between 18,000 and 20,000) and their camps demolished. This war, known as “Black September”, also resulted in the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan and its relocation to Lebanon.



In south Lebanon, Israeli warplanes bombed and destroyed the al-Nabatiya refugee camp near the city of al-Nabatiya in 1974. Refugees were displaced to Ein al-Hilwe refugee camp and other camps in Beirut. Two years later, right-wing Lebanese Christian militias backed by Syrian army reinforcements razed Tel e-Za’tar (Dekwana) and Jisr al-Basha refugee camps in eastern Beirut, massacring an estimated 2000 people.[2] Refugees were displaced yet again to Ein al-Hilwe and other Beirut camps. The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon led to the massacre of several thousand Palestinian refugees in the Beirut refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra, by Israeli-allied Christian Phalangists in September 1982. Palestinian refugees were also displaced as a result of the “war of the camps” (1985–87) between the Lebanese army and PLO forces that remained after the departure of the PLO.[3]

According to UNRWA estimates, during the 1980s and following Israel’s military invasion of Lebanon, 57 percent of homes in the eight refugee camps in the Beirut, Saida and Tyre areas were destroyed, with another 36 percent damaged in aerial bombardment, ground fighting, and subsequent bulldozing. The vast scale of the damage affected some 73,500 refugees – 90 percent of the camp population in those areas.

Close to 200,000 Palestinian refugees were displaced and some 30,000 killed between 1982 and the late 1980s, as a result of Israel’s invasion, the departure of the PLO forces (14,000) to Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Syria, and the subsequent civil war.[4] Since the 1980s, it is estimated that about 100,000 Palestinians have emigrated from Lebanon or sought protection from persecution in the Gulf countries and Northern Europe, mainly in Germany, Sweden and Denmark.[5]

In Kuwait, during the 1991 Gulf War, most of the Palestinian population (350,000 –400,000) was forced to leave the country as collective punishment for PLO support for Iraq. Most Palestinians in Kuwait were UNRWA-registered 1948 refugees with Jordanian passports or Egyptian travel documents. Palestinians were mainly displaced to Jordan (250,000–280,000) and Iraq (2,000). Those with residency status in the OPT (30,000–40,000) were able to return. The PLO estimated that only some 27,000 Palestinians remained in Kuwait.[6]
In 1994, Libya announced its intention to expel Palestinians (35,000) as an expression of its dissatisfaction with the Oslo peace process. Measures taken by the Libyan government included non-renewal of Palestinian residency permits and cancellation of valid ones. In September 1995, Libyan President Qaddafi expelled thousands of Palestinians from Libya on ships and trucks. Some were allowed entry into Jordan, the OPT, Syria and Lebanon, but many who had no valid travel documents were left stranded in extremely harsh conditions in the Saloum refugee camp on the border between Egypt and Libya. In January 1997, the Libyan parliament announced that Palestinians who had been stranded for 16 months at the Egyptian border could return to Libya.[7]

In Iraq, the situation of Palestinian refugees has dramatically deteriorated since 2003 as a result of the U.S.-led war and occupation. Palestinian refugees are not only victims of the general violence, but are also persecuted on grounds of nationality. Persecution has taken the form of eviction from their homes, arbitrary detention, kidnapping, torture, rape, and extra-judicial killings. The U.S./U.K. forces and the Iraqi authorities are unable or unwilling to protect Palestinian refugees in Iraq. Of a population estimated at 34,000 persons in 2003, over 15,000 have left Iraq. The whereabouts and legal status of those who have fled remain largely unknown to UN agencies because of the difficulties of working in Iraq, as well as financial constraints. Some Palestinian refugees have been reported by UNHCR offices in locations as far a field as India and Thailand.

Palestinians fleeing the violence of Iraq were denied entry to Syria and Jordan, except for a small group placed in al Hol camp (340 people) just inside the Syrian border. A second group of 940 refugees ended up in a camp in the seven kilometer long no-man’s-land between Syria and Iraq at al Tanf, while a third group of 1,750 was blocked from entering this zone and were placed in a camp at al Waleed, on the Iraqi side of the border.[8] By 2008, more than 2,600 Palestinian refugees from Iraq were still stranded in these camps. Another 4,000 are believed to be living in Damascus illegally after entering the country using forged passports.[9]

In April 2008, the Chilean government began resettling 116 Palestinians from the al-Tanf camp.[10] In 2008 the PLO also reached a tri-partite humanitarian relocation agreement with UNHCR and the Sudanese government as a temporary solution for the plight of Palestinians in the camps of al Tanf and al Waleed. The agreement is yet to be implemented. In July 2009, the U.S. State Department confirmed that it would resettle 1,350 Palestinian refugees from Iraq to begin that fall.[11] About 10,000 Palestinian refugees, mainly the most vulnerable who are unable to flee, are believed to have remained in Baghdad. Other Palestinian refugees fleeing Iraq have been resettled in Iceland and Sweden. 

Israel’s war with Lebanon in the summer of 2006 (12 July - 14 August) led to inflows and outflows of displaced persons from Palestinian refugee camps. Although the camps were not generally directly targeted, on many occasions bombing and shelling took place in the immediate vicinity of the camps.[12] Moreover, as many as 25,000 Palestinian refugees residing outside the camps in the southern villages near the Israeli border faced the same conditions as the Lebanese population.[13] Around 16,000 Palestinian refugees were displaced both within Lebanon and to neighboring countries.[14] The Palestinian refugee camps of Rashidieh, al-Buss, Burj al-Shamali, Mieh Mieh, and Ein el-Hilweh hosted internally displaced Lebanese and Palestinians.[15] The majority of these IDPs returned to their homes after the end of hostilities. The war exacerbated the vulnerability of Palestinian refugees.[16]

Between May and September 2007, the Nahr el Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon was destroyed displacing some 31,400 Palestinian refugees.[17] 105 days of fighting between the fundamentalist Fateh al Islam group and the Lebanese army leveled most of the camp, including entire residential blocks, commercial properties, mosques, UNRWA facilities, water reservoirs, sewage and electricity networks, roads and telephone lines. The majority of families fleeing the conflict sought refuge in and around the Beddawi refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli, nearly doubling this camp’s population overnight.[18] Nearly 1,000 families were scattered elsewhere throughout Lebanon.[19]

The destruction of the camp on the 60th year of the Nakba engendered comparisons amongst the refugee population that it had experienced a "second Nakba" losing everything their families had worked for over six decades.[20] UNRWA rebuilding efforts are expected to be complete by mid-2011.

[1] UNRWAPR, Statistical Bulletin Lebanon , May 1950- June 1951, p: 14A, 14A-B
[2]  -Idem.Ibid , p: 13
[3]           - زراقط مهى ، المخيمات الفلسطينية في لبنان ، في المخيمات الفلسطينية في لبنان ، واقع بائس يبحث عن حلول ، بطاقة تعريف ، مركز عصام فارس للشؤون اللبنانية ، ايلول 2009 .ص:28 .
[4]           -[4] أحمد محمود، معين، الفلسطينيون في لبنان:الواقع الاجتماعي، دار إبن خلدون، بيروت، 1973 ص:32.
[5]           - [5] العلي محمود ، الواقع الاجتماعي للاجئين الفلسطينيين في لبنان ، التدامج والتمايز، 1948 -2005."بيروت ، مركز باحث للدراسات، 2009 ، ص:38.
[6]           4 -Hudson, Michael, Palestinian & Lebanon the Common Story, Journal of Refugee Studies, No: 3. May 1988. p: 245
[7]           عبدالله، رضوان، اللاجئون الفلسطينيون، أوضاعهم، معاناتهم، حقوقهم، مطبعة خيزران، لبنان، ط1/2002، ص:20.
[8]           -الأنروا- بيروت ، وضاع المهجرين الفلسطينيين في لبنان _ورشة عمل /صيدا في 22 آذار 1990 ،ص:27 .
[9]           - Ralp Gadban , in  Palestinian Refugees in Europe and Challenges of adaptation and identity : summary report of workshop on Palestinian refugees', communities in Europe .St Antony college university of Oxford,

[1] See, for example: Closing Protection Gaps. Handbook on Protection of Palestinian Refugees in States Signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, BADIL Resource Center, August 2005, p. 122-125. See also: Chapter Three
[2] Cobban, Helena, The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power, and Politics, Cambridge University Press, (1984) p. 142
[3] A 1988 survey of 4,470 displaced Palestinian families found that the majority were displaced because of the 1985–1987 “war of the camps”, and that 75% of them have been forced from their house three or more times. See Jaber Suleiman, “Marginalised Community: The case of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon”, United Kingdom: Development Research Centre on Migration Globalisation and Poverty, April 2006, p. 6.
[4] Suheil al-Natour, Awda’ al-Sha’ab al Falastini fi Lubnan [Arabic], Beirut: Dar al-Takadum al-Arabi, 1993; and Al-Mohajjarun al-Falastinyoun fi Lubnan [Arabic], Beirut: Ajial, 2003.
[5] Jaber Suleiman, “Marginalised Community: The Case of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon”, p. 6, cited in Mohamed Dorai, “Palestinian Emigration from Lebanon to Northern Europe: Refugees, Networks, and Transitional Practices,” Refugee, 21:2, February 2003.
[6] UNRWA announced that between August 1990 and March 1991, approximately 250,000 persons holding Jordanian passports arrived in Jordan, of whom the majority were registered refugees or of Palestinian origin. See Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations for Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, A/46/13, 20 June, 1991. The Jordanian government estimates that 280,000 persons holding Jordanian passports had entered Jordan by the end of the Gulf War. Shaml Palestinian Disapora and Refugee Centre estimates that between 30–40,000 Palestinians were able to enter the OPT. Research Report No. 6, Ramallah: Shaml.
[7] Shaml Newsletter No. 6, February 1997. Also see Shaml Newsletter No. 1, December 1995.
[8] For more on the status of Palestinian refugees displaced as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, see, "From Fast Death to Slow Death:  Palestinian Refugees from Iraq Trapped on the Syria-Iraq Border", Summary Report of an International NGO Delegation, November 20, 2008.
[9] "Al Tanf Camp Trauma Continues for Palestinians Fleeing Iraq", April 2008 AI Index: MDE 14/012/2008. Palestinian refugees form Iraq who are present in Syrian territory are regularly picked up by Syrian security forces and transferred to the al Tanf camp.
[10] "Palestine refugees from Iraq resettled in Chile", The Electronic Intifada, 8 April 2008.
[11] "Risking Israel's ire, U.S. takes 1,350 Palestinian refugees" Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor 7 July, 2009.
[12] On three occasions the refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh was hit by Israeli bombardments and one member of UNRWA staff, as well as two civilians were killed. See "UNRWA Strongly Condemns the Killing of its Staff Member", UNRWA Lebanon Field Office, Beirut, 15 August, 2006.
[13] UNRWA, “The Situation of Palestine Refugees in South Lebanon,” 15 August  2006.
[14] UNRWA, Situation Report, 9 August 2006.
[15] See Zeidan, Mahmoud, “30 Days in Paradise! The role of Palestinian Refugees in Assisting Lebanese Displaced Persons during the Last Israeli War on Lebanon,” al Majdal, Issue 30–31 (Summer–Fall 2006), p. 16.
[16] “War exacerbates Palestine refugee conditions – Report,” IRIN News, 17 September, 2006.
[17] "Internally displaced Persons from Nahr el Bared Camp as of 7 August 2007" UNRWA August 2007 found at:
[18] "Nahr el-Bared Palestine Refugee Camp UNRWA Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework 2008-2011", UNRWA Publication May 2008, p. 5
[19] Ibid. See table p.7
[20] "Boos as Lebanon camp is rebuilt", Natalia Antelava, BBC News, Lebanon 10 March, 2009.