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Palestinian Refugees and IDPs: Fortifying UNRWA and Closing the Protection Gap
Palestinian Refugees and IDPs: Fortifying UNRWA and Closing the Protection Gap

Since 1948, the Palestinian people have been exposed to systematic and ongoing forcible displacement and transfer. This forced displacement and transfer is coupled with the denial of the right to reparations. As such the mechanisms, policies and practices employed by Israel have created, maintained and augmented the displaced Palestinian population. Currently, Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) constitute 8.7 million[1] - 67 percent of the Palestinian people. This dilemma is exacerbated by an ever-expanding protection gap resulting from a deterioration in and absence of existing protection mechanisms and the unwillingness of the international community to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities towards the Palestinian people.  
Israel has and continues to use both types of force to continually displace and dispossess the indigenous Palestinian population: the force derived from armed/violent conflict and the creation of coercive environment. Mass ethnic cleansing of large Palestinian populations occurred in 1948 and 1967. Alternatively, the creation (and maintenance) of a coercive environment is perpetrated by multiple policies that deny fundamental human rights and results in continuous and almost invisible forcible displacement and transfer of smaller groups.[2]
Israeli displacement and transfer are coupled with the ongoing denial of the right to reparations[3] (i.e. voluntary repatriation, property restitution, compensation and guarantees of non-repetition) either directly or indirectly. For example, hundreds of Palestinian villages and localities were demolished between 1948 and 1952, in order to prevent and impede Palestinian return. And since its creation, the Israeli Knesset has issued numerous legislation to impede and outright deny Palestinian return.[4]
This ongoing denial of reparations generates a particular vulnerability in Palestinian refugees to further displacement and emboldens Israel’s policies of forcible transfer.[5] This can be seen with Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria, often identified as the most vulnerable group affected by the conflict,[6] and in the oPt where forcible transfer continues unabated. The protection gap is further exacerbated by the absence of effective protection[7] for Palestinian refugees experiencing secondary displacement, such as those in the oPt, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Yemen.
While the United Nations mandated two agencies to provide assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees and IDPs; both have struggled and/or failed to ensure basic and inalienable rights, resulting in a broadening protection gap. The United Nations Conciliation Committee on Palestine (UNCCP), established by UNGA Resolution 194 and tasked to ensure the right to reparations, was quickly relegated to a nominal and dysfunctional agency.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), created in 1949 and assigned to administer basic needs and services, suffers from structural deficiencies that include the lack of a sustainable funding mechanism, a needs-based rather than a rights-based definition of  ‘Palestine’ refugee, and limitations in its legal and geographic mandate. Compounding UNRWA’s shortcomings are the recent systematic attacks against the Agency by the administrations of the United States of America (USA) and Israel.[8] These attacks aim to cripple the Agency’s ability to fulfill its mandate by undermining its funding, further limit the refugee definition, and transfer international responsibility for Palestinian refugees to host and Arab states.
Obligations of Third Party and UN member States
In situations in which states are unable or unwilling to provide protection, it is incumbent on third party and UN Member States to intervene and provide protection.[9] It is clear that, as the ongoing Nakba enters its 72nd year, Israel continues to shirk its obligations as the occupying power, and its international responsibilities as a Member State of the UN, which are dictated in numerous international conventions and UN resolutions.[10] These same conventions and resolutions define intentional responsibilities and obligations of other states towards the Palestinian people.
In recognition of World Refugee Day, which indicates the international community’s acknowledgement and recognition of its responsibilities towards displaced populations and groups, and, as Palestinian refugees and IDPs constitute the world’s largest and most protracted displaced population,[11] the Global Palestinian Refugee Network (GPRN) calls on third party and UN Member States to hold Israel accountable and demands fulfillment of their obligations according to international law. 
This includes to take any and all measures to fortify UNRWA, as the only active international, UN-mandated agency servicing Palestinian refugees. These measure should maintain UNRWA’s international character, and provide the needed structural revisions and financial inputs to ensure and enhance its mandate.


[1] BADIL Survey of Palestinian Refugees and IDPs, 9th Edition (to be released), this number includes 5,545,540 M 1948 refugees registered with UNRWA; 1,161,812 M 1948 unregistered refugees; 1,237,462 M 1967 refugees; 415,876 internally displaced inside the Green Line and 344,599 internally displaced in the oPt.
[2] For more information see BADIL’s working paper series, Forcible Transfer: the Case of Palestine, “Denial of Residency”, “Installment of the Permit Regime”, “Land Confiscation and Denial of Use”, “Discriminatory Zoning and Planning”, and “Suppression of Resistance”, all available at
[3] International Law Commission, Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, with commentaries, November 2001, Supplement No. 10 (A/56/10), Art 31, available at:; and more specifically the right of return enshrined under Rule 132 of Customary IHL; Art 6 and 158 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; Art. 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); and Art 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
[4] For example, Law for the Prevention of Infiltration (Offences and Judging), 5714-1954, SH No. 16, 160, (as amended)(Isr.); BADIL, “Forcible Transfer: the Case of Palestine, Denial of Reparations”, Working Paper No. 22, October 2018, available at;
Absentee Property Law, 5710-1950, SH, No. 37, 86. An English translation of the law is available at:; Law of Return, 5710–1950, 4 LSI 114 (1949–1950) (Isr.)
[5] BADIL, supra note 5, p.66-68.
[6] UNHCR and Lebanon Government, Lebanon Crisis: Response Plan 2017-2020 (2018 update), January 2018, p.11,13,37, available at: [accessed 1 May 2019]
[7] BADIL, Closing Protection Gaps:  Handbook on Protection of Palestinian Refugees in States signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, 2nd edition, February 2015, Chapter 5, available at
[8] BADIL, “Understanding the political underpinnings of UNRWA’s chronic financial crisis”, Bulletin No. 27, July 2018, available at
[9] ILC Draft Articles on State Responsibility, supra note 3.
[10] Israel is bound, inter alia,  by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), international customary law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR),  UNGA Resolution 194 of December 1948 and UNSC Resolution 237 of 1967, just to name a few.
[11] UNHCR, The State of the World’s Refugees, April 2006, 106, available
at: [accessed 28 May 2019].