The tragic case of Palestinian-Syrian refugees – Follow @RefugeesAffairs


DRAH | Oct 5, 2013

Gaza,(– Politics and legal loopholes have left Palestinian-Syrian refugees among the most vulnerable in the region

In this Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 photo, a Palestinian family who fled thier home in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in south Damascus, look out through the window, at the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon. The Palestinian exodus from Syria has also revived decades-old debate over the Palestine refugees’ ‘right of return’ to their homes that are now in Israel, adding to the complexity the conflict whose sectarian and ethnic overtones have spilled over into neighboring countries raising fears of a regional war. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)(Credit: AP)

The tragic case of two Syrian refugees killed by Egyptian border guards while trying to illegally escape by boat to Europe – at the outrageous price of $2,000-$4,000 a spot — highlights once again how dire the humanitarian situation is for refugees in the region.

According to Egypt’s state-owned Al Ahram English:

“Coastal guards opened fire on the boat, which was carrying at least one hundred refugees, leading to the death of two Palestinians on board – 30 year-old Omar Delol and 50 year-old Fadwa Taha – according to rights lawyer Mahinour El-Masry.”

But the two Syrians killed were not just refugees; as Palestinian Syrians, they fall into a particularly complicated category of “twice refugeed.” This status leaves them among the most vulnerable people in the Middle East, caught in the clutches of both regional politics and the blind spots of international law.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, was established in 1950 to provide assistance and protection. Today it serves some 5 million registered refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

When the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, Syria was home to 500,000 Palestinians who came in waves after the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli Wars. Palestinians in Syria had nearly equal rights to other nationals, but as refugees they were not eligible for Syrian passports. Instead, they were given temporary Syrian residency cards, which many governments do not recognize at their borders.

Now the situation has grown increasingly unstable.

As the AP reported this month, UNRWA is facing a $54 million shortfall (its annual operational budget is around $600 million). With the Syrian crisis and a global recession still underway, donor countries have been tightening their aid budgets. UNRWA’s Commissioner General Filippo Grandi told the AP:

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