(Witness): On the 75th Anniversary of the Nakbah, what is the situation of Palestinian Refugees Comparative Study (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan)

(Witness): On the 75th Anniversary of the Nakbah, what is the situation of Palestinian Refugees  Comparative Study (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan)



The conflict between Israeli and Palestinians commenced back since the World War I onwards when the Israelis announced the forcible establishment of their state on the Palestinian land in 1948 leading to what is called the Nakbah. During the Nakbah, many massacres and violations against Palestinians were documented.


The Zionist militias didn’t differentiate between men, women, and children as it killed hundreds of Palestinians and expelled around 750 thousand from their land in a non-humanitarian manner. The Palestinians had to flee majorly to nearby countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.


Throughout the 75 years since the being displaced by Nakbah, Palestinians have been and still suffering various challenges and crisis especially legal challenges and rights deprivation in all places of their residence during the early stage after their expulsion.


The Palestinian refugees have suffered - the most in Lebanon - in the places of asylum in terms of their basic rights. The following report sheds light on the legal situation of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon through a comparative study to understand the real suffering especially in Lebanon.


First: Palestinian refugees in Jordan


Out of 736 thousand Palestinians expelled from their land in 1948, 70 thousand fled to Jordan in 1949; increasing to 506,200 in 1950 after the Jericho Conference [1] to annex the West Bank to Jordan.


After the West Bank annexation, 90% of the Palestinians living there could obtain the Jordanian citizenship excluding those who went to Jordan after 16 February 1954. According to UNRWA statistics, the largest number of refugees in all UNRWA five fields is in Jordan as more than 2 million refugees are registered most of which have full citizenship [2] .


Palestinian refugees in Jordan live in ten recognized camps: Baqa’ camp, Martyr Azmi al Mufti camp, Irbid camp, Jabal el Hussein camp, Jerash camp, Hitten camp, Souf camp, Talbieh camp, Zarqa camp, Al Wehdat camp where UNRWA provides its services. In addition to three unofficial camps: Al Hassan Camp, Sakhna camp, and Madaba camp where the government provides services also. [3]


Legal status of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan:

The legal status of the Palestinian refugees has evolved through important historical milestones. After the announcement of annexation of West Bank to Jordan in Jericho Conference in 1950, 90% of refugees obtained the Jordanian citizenship until the Nationality Acquisition Law was suspended in 16 February 1954. Those refugees practice full rights as Jordanians and have duties including military service (the right to work, own property, movement, legal personality, etc.).


Second: Palestinian Refugees in Syria


Since it started in 2011, the Syrian civil war has left a severe impact on Palestinian refugees in particular as camps were fully or partially destroyed, thousands were killed or detained, many are still left for the unknown, and tens of thousands had to seek asylum.


Around 568000 Palestinian refugees are registered in UNRWA official records living in 12 camps; 9 official camps are Al Nayrab camp, Jarmana camp, Hama camp, Homs camp, Khan al- Shih camp, Khan Dannun camp, Deraa camp, Sbeineh camp, and Qabr Essit camp. 3 camps are unofficial: Latakia camp, Yarmouk camp, and Ein Al Tal camp. [4]


After the Syrian crisis in 2011, the number of Palestinian refugees in Syria has dropped as 200 thousand fled to nearby and European countries [5] , 4214 were killed till last year [6] , and 2721 were detained or under enforced disappearance. [7]


Legal status of Palestinians in Syria:

Since the Nakbah when Palestinians had to move to Syria, the Syrian government have worked to engage them in the economic, political and social fields through legalizing the Palestinian presence that guarantees their basic rights including the right to work, the right to residence and the right to movement. Laws and decrees were issued so that Palestinians have their full rights and duties except for the right to candidacy and elections and are treated equally as residents.


Law no. 260 issued on 10 July 1957 is the cornerstone that regulates Palestinians legal situation and stipulates that "Palestinians residing in the Syrian Arab Republic, on the date of publication of this law, are considered as Syrians in origin in all that is stipulated in the laws and regulations in force, and with the rights of employment, work, trade, and military service, while retaining their original nationality.” It is noteworthy that the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees affiliated to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is concerned with following up the issues of Palestinian refugees in Syria. [8]


Through this law, the Palestinian refugee in Syria enjoys all civil rights as Syrians including practicing all professions without restrictions. Except for some rights as the married Palestinian has the right to ownership for one house only and requires an approval from the Ministry of Interior. Likewise, he has the right to membership in syndicates (doctors, lawyers, and engineers…) and has full rights as other members.


Third: Palestinians in Lebanon


Representing 5% of the Lebanese population, the Palestinian refugees are 250 thousand distributed among 12 UNRWA-registered official camps to which UNRWA provides its services: Rashidieh camp, Borj El Barajneh camp, Shatila camp, Mar Elias camp, Dbayeh camp, Beddawi camp, Nahr al-Bared camp, and Wavel camp, in addition to many Palestinian gatherings near Lebanese cities.


Since they moved in, the Palestinian refugees have been experiencing marginalization and negligence at all levels ranging from spatial marginalization that forced them to live in overcrowded camps to economic marginalization restricting their right to work and social security.


As the country’s economy have collapsed since 2019, Palestinian refugees have almost hit a rock bottom in the light of increasing rate of unemployment, devaluation of local currency in Lebanon, and the post-covid-19 crisis with an already-existing deteriorating conditions they were living.


Legal status of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon:

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon can be classified into three categories:

·       Palestinians who are registered in both UNRWA and General Directorate of Political Affairs and Refugees records, representing the greatest portion of the refugees.

·       Palestinians who are registered in the records of the General Directorate of Political Affairs and Refugees only for various reasons.

·       Palestinians who are unregistered in neither of the records; those who lack identity papers. [9]


The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) affirms in this regard that the Palestinian refugee is deprived of the legal personality that provides him/her an explicit and specific definition. With the absence of serious action of the Lebanese government, the status of the legal personality remains undefined.  Although the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue committee has released the document "A Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian. Refugees Affairs in Lebanon, it didn’t proceed in legal actions in terms of laws and decisions [10] . The following report discusses the rights that the Palestinian refugees are deprived of.


1.        The Right to work:

According to resolution 189 of the Lebanese ministry of labor dated 1982 prohibits the Palestinian refugees from practicing 60 professions. A later resolution dated 1983 included all foreigners prohibiting them from practicing 75 professions. Then the Minister Trad Hamadeh released a memorandum in 2005 permitting Palestinians born on Lebanese land and who are officially registered in the records of the Lebanese Ministry of Interior to work in various professions. However, despite the importance of this memorandum, it didn’t meet the refugees’ needs. Likewise, the amendments on labor law weren’t effective as it should be.


2.        The right to adequate property:

With the natural population growth, the Palestinian refugees population has multiplied since the Nakbah leading to overcrowded camps. Thus, due to the restrictions on the entrance of construction materials and the arbitrary security measures of the Lebanese government against Palestinians, construction had to expand vertically as no laws authorize the horizontal expansion of camps. What we can say is that UNRWA didn’t seriously demand for the expansion of camps and the government didn’t deal with this issue properly.


3.     The right to ownership:

Since ever, the right to ownership wasn’t a problem for Palestinians until 2001 when the Lebanese parliament issued the resolution 296 that deprived them of the right to ownership under the pretext of refusing resettlement. The law does not specifically mention Palestinians, but rather stipulates that nationals of countries recognized (by Lebanon) have the right to own real estate, provided that this ownership does not conflict with the principle of refusing settlement enshrined in the constitution. The second paragraph of article (1) of the resolution 296 explicitly excludes Palestinians from the right to ownership stating: "It is not permissible to own any real right for any kind to any person who does not hold a nationality issued by a recognized country, or for any person if the appropriation is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution in terms of refusing resettlement.”


Noting that Lebanon didn’t recognize the Palestinian Authority until 2005 and it is still not considered a real state, so Palestinians cannot own properties.


Comparison of legal status of the Palestinian refugees:

After discussing the legal conditions of Palestinians in the aforementioned countries, we can infer that they live the worst conditions in Lebanon compared to other places of asylum in terms of legislations and resolutions that directly affect the Palestinian refugees that in turn could guarantee their rights. The question now is: Why does Lebanon deals with Palestinian issues differently than other countries do?


All countries recognize the importance of treaties and international and regional charters and adhering to them to respect human rights regardless of differences at all levels. They include Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951 the Casablanca protocol in 1965.


The situation of Palestinian refugees in the aforementioned countries (Jordan and Syria) indicates that granting them their rights -except the political ones- doesn’t mean that they are given resettlement nor that it may affect the demographic composition in Lebanon. Thus, the Lebanese treatment of Palestinian refugees is unjustified and the government should bear responsibility of answering the previous question.



The reality of Palestinian refugees differs from one country to another, not only in the countries mentioned in this report, but even in other countries, both foreign and Arab. However, all Palestinian refugees, wherever they are, and regardless of their situation, cling to their right to return to their land, and this is guaranteed to them by Resolution 194 of the United Nations General Assembly.




Accordingly, and after examining the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and comparing them with other countries, Lebanon has a legal and moral obligation towards the Palestinian refugees, especially since it has no justifications for this policy in dealing with the Palestinian refugees for more than 7 decades. Therefore, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness) warns of the negative repercussions of depriving the Palestinian refugee of his rights, and recommends the following:



1.      The Lebanese state shall treat the Palestinian refugees fairly and grant them all their rights, like other countries do.

2.      The Lebanese state to implement the document "A unified Lebanese vision for the issues of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

3.      The authorities concerned with the affairs of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to work on achieving Palestinian human rights.

4.      Civil society institutions, media, and actors to highlight the human rights aspect of Palestinian refugees, and not limiting themselves to relief aid despite its importance.

5.      The international community to condemn the violations of the Israeli occupation that have been going on for more than 7 decades, and work to perpetuate the Palestinian right of return and self-determination.


Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness)

May 15, 2023