Doc. 9808

15 May 2003

The situation of Palestinian refugees

Report

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteur: Mr Olav Akselsen, Norway, Socialist Group

Summary

The main aim of this report is to examine the conditions in which the Palestinian refugees stay irrespective of the place: be that in the Middle East or Europe. It looks closely at the applicability of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and, more generally, at legal status and assistance provided to the Palestinian refugees.

The report also examines the economic and social living conditions in the area of operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and makes a number of recommendations aimed at the improvement of the humanitarian situation.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly strongly condemns the escalation of violence in the Middle East since September 2000, as well as any acts of human rights violations including both the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Army and all terrorist attacks in the current wave of “Intifada”.

2.       The lack of progress so far regarding the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is deplored. Both parties of the conflict must show more flexibility and engage in a true political dialogue. It is hoped that the new Road Map to peace drawn up by the quartet United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia, and the appointment of a new Palestinian Government will bring new impetus to the peace process.

3.       It is a matter of great concern that the question of refugees remains a major obstacle to finding a durable solution. Although the establishment of a viable Palestinian state would largely contribute to the durable solution of the question of refugees, the situation of the latter, being largely a humanitarian problem, should not await the political settlement of the Middle East conflict before being dealt with without any further delay.

4.       The situation of 3.9 million refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), including 1.2 million people living in camps in very miserable conditions, is not only unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view but constitutes a major threat for the stability and security in the region.

5.       The Assembly considers that the services of UNRWA must be fully maintained until a permanent solution is found. The international community should step up its voluntary financial contribution to the budget of UNRWA with a view to at least allowing it to reflect the natural growth of the Palestinian refugee population being assisted by this Agency.

6.       The Assembly recognizes the validity of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) referring to the right of refugees to return or to get compensation. However, 50 years after its adoption and in view of the historical and political developments in the region, it should be implemented with all necessary flexibility.

7.       In particular, a large number of those who prefer to stay in host countries in the region should be compensated and provided with financial support allowing them to settle in a permanent way.

8.       Third countries, including the Gulf States and Council of Europe member states, should also contribute to the durable solution of the problem by accepting a certain number of refugees. The Assembly reaffirms its call for a new fund to be established by the United Nations with a view to financing the forthcoming cost of resettlement: the Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund.

9.       The question of the legal status of the Palestinian refugees outside the region remains a point of concern. Yet, legal status is essential for the legal, social and economic situation of persons in general, and Palestinian refugees are at a clear disadvantage in this respect and must therefore be given a recognised legal status.

10.       Accordingly, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers calls on Council of Europe member states:

i. to review their policies in respect of Palestinian asylum seekers, with a view to effectively implementing United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) new guidelines published in 2002 on the applicability of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees;

ii. to ensure that where Palestinian refugees are legally recognized, they should be entitled to all benefits of socio-economic rights, including family reunion, normally accorded to recognized refugees in these member states;

iii. to include the information on Palestinian origin in the statistics concerning asylum seekers and refugees;

iv. to support the activities of the UNRWA by providing or stepping up voluntary financial contributions to its budget;

v. to promote the idea of establishing a Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund under the aegis of the United Nations to finance the forthcoming cost of resettlement;

vi. to make provision in their budgets for donations to this Fund;

vii. to contribute to the international debate on durable solutions offered to the Palestinian refugees, and encourage as well as commission political and academic research and studies concerning refugee problems and compensations.

11.       The Assembly recommends the Committee of Ministers :

i. to instruct the appropriate committee to examine the issues relating to the legal status of Palestinian refugees in Council of Europe member states, and come up with concrete initiatives to ensure that all Palestinian persons displaced from their homes of origin are provided with an appropriate legal status entitling them to all basic socio-economic rights;

ii. to review, with a view to recommending harmonization, Council of Europe member states’ policies in this respect, notably by effectively implementing UNHCR’s new guidelines published in 2002 on the applicability of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees;

iii. to initiate the organisation of an international conference devoted entirely to the question of Palestinian refugees;

iv. to promote research aimed at obtaining statistics concerning Palestinian refugees and their status in Council of Europe member states;

v. to support programmes aimed at establishing and strengthening democratic values and human rights awareness in the region;

vi. to invite Palestinian NGOs, in particular those active in the youth area, to establish contacts with the Organisation with a view to developing co-operation.

II.       Draft resolution

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly referring to its Recommendation … (2003) calls upon:

i.       the Government of Israel:

a. to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law during military operations and that every case of alleged human rights violation be investigated and perpetrators be prosecuted;

b. to allow for free access of international humanitarian organisations, to remove bureaucratic obstacles for the delivery of humanitarian goods and to allow for free movement of UNRWA staff;

c. to refrain from using refugees for political purposes and show more flexibility on the refugee issue;

ii.       the Palestinian Authority:

a. to refrain from using refugees as an instrument in political action and show more flexibility on the refugee issue;

b. to promote a choice of options for a durable solution including compensations to the refugee population;

c. to actively seek international support for the establishment of a Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund;

d. to provide more support for refugees, including social and economic support, within its own mandate;

iii.       The Assembly calls on the Government of Lebanon to emulate other host countries in the provision of services to the Palestine refugees, in addition to those provided by UNRWA.

2.       The Assembly reiterates its interest in increasing co-operation with the Palestinian Legislative Council in accordance with Resolution 1013 (1993).

III.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr Olav Akselsen

1.       Introduction

1.       The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography has been following the humanitarian situation in the Middle East for a long time now. The last report was presented by Mr Atkinson on behalf of the Committee in April 19981, and following its debate in the Assembly, Resolution 1156 (1998) on the Palestine refugee situation in the context of the Middle East Peace Process was adopted. More recently, in a changed political climate, in June 2002, the Committee presented its opinion on the report by the Political Affairs Committee on the situation in the Middle East2.

2.       The present report stems from the Motion for a resolution presented in February 2002 by Mrs Zwerver and others. At the later stage, the Committee has decided, on the suggestion by the Rapporteur, to take account of another motion for a recommendation on the status of Palestinian refugees and stateless persons in Europe, presented by Mrs Vermot-Mangold and others in October 2002, and referred to this Committee for information. Indeed, in the Rapporteur’s opinion it is logical to examine the situation, their right to protection, status and social and economic rights of the Palestinian refugees irrespective of their place of stay, and the distinction between the refugees in the Middle East and in Europe has no justification.

3.       The report is based on the number of sources of information: firstly, the Rapporteur used the conclusions of the visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority by the ad hoc committee of the Bureau, composed of the leaders of the political groups or their representatives and the Chairman of this Committee, held on 7 – 12 June 2002. Secondly, the Rapporteur carried out a fact-finding visit to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon on 18-22 November 2002, where he met representatives of UNRWA, host country authorities, representatives of the Palestinian Authority, local and international NGOs, and visited a number of refugee camps (see Programme for the visit, Appendix 1). Thirdly, he used the conclusions of the parliamentary hearing on the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Europe, organized by the Sub-Committee on refugees in Budapest, on 16 December 2002 (see Programme of the Hearing, Appendix 2). Finally, the report takes into account updated information received from relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations and associations.

4.       The main aim of this report is to examine the conditions in which the Palestinian refugees stay irrespective of the place: be that in Israel, in Jordan, or in any other country. It also tries to assess to what extent previous recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly in this field have been fulfilled.

5.       The Rapporteur has concentrated, in accordance with his mandate, on strictly humanitarian questions. However, very often, and particularly in this highly politicised conflict in the Middle East, it is difficult to distinguish between the political and humanitarian aspects. The Rapporteur is fully aware that the question of refugees is placed in the centre of the political debate. However, he is still of the opinion that some strictly humanitarian issues should be resolved irrespectively of political considerations. It should be noted that during the third part-session 2002, the Assembly adopted the Draft Resolution on the situation in the Middle East presented by Mr Mikhail Margelov on behalf of the Political Affairs Committee. Moreover, the Sub-Committee on the Middle East held an exchange of views on the present political situation and preparation of the observation of the elections in Paris, on 14 October 2002.

6.       Finally, the Rapporteur would like to express his gratitude to UNRWA, as well as to the Norwegian Embassies in Jordan and in Syria for their precious help and cooperation in the preparation and during the fact-finding visit to the Middle East.

2.       General overview

A.       Legal status

7.       The Palestinian refugees constitute a very particular category among refugees in general. The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees contains specific provisions that excludes from the benefits of the Convention, those Palestinians who are refugees as a result of the 1948 or 1967 Arab-Israeli conflicts and who are receiving protection or assistance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, the UN established UNRWA to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA became operational in 1950. Originally envisaged as a temporary relief organization, the Agency has gradually adjusted its programmes to meet the changing needs of the refugees. Its mandate, unlike UNHCR’s mandate, does not include protection per se.

8.       UNRWA is not bound by Geneva Convention’s definition of refugees. It has got its own definition of Palestinian refugees as persons whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948; who lost both home and livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, or the direct descendants of these persons; and who are registered with UNRWA. In practice, registration has confined for practical reasons to those who took refugee in the area of UNRWA’s operations, i.e.: West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

9.       Nevertheless the protection and benefits of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees applies ipso facto to Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) who are falling under UNRWA’s mandate but who are outside of its areas of operation. UNHCR considers two groups of refugees within this category:

10.       All other categories of Palestinian refugees outside of UNRWA’s areas of operation can benefit from the protection of the 1951 Convention under the application of the general refugee definition, i.e. a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

11.       In consequence, all those Palestinian refugees who live outside these five fields of UNRWA’s operation, are not always automatically considered as refugees. These include around 100 000 Palestinians in Iraq, around 50 000 Palestinians in Egypt, unknown number of Palestinian refugees in other Arab countries, in Europe, and all over the world.

12.       Moreover, even in the area of operation of UNRWA, there is a big number of Palestinians who have no refugee status. These include some of the persons uprooted in 1967; whereas some are considered displaced persons, others (like those originating from Gaza and at present residing in Jordan – approximately 40 000) – have no legal status at all. A big number of Palestinians who were expelled or fled some Arab countries during the Gulf War have also problems with their status.

13.       The legal situation of Palestinian refugees in Europe requires a more thorough examination and will be closer looked at below.

B.       Economic and social conditions

14.       At present, assistance to the Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, is provided mainly by UNRWA. It should be noted, however, that UNRWA does not “run” refugee camps, but is the main provider of basic services: education, health, relief and social services. The camps are administered by special bodies, equivalent of mayorships, usually appointed by the host authorities (the only exception being Lebanon, see below). Therefore, any accusations of the lack of “control” over the security situation in the camps addressed to UNRWA are fully unjustified.

15.       UNRWA employs 23 572 local staff, recruited mainly among refugees, and 129 international staff. In 2002, it had a total budget of 330 748 USD. Its headquarters are in Amman (Jordan) and Gaza. It provides services to over 3.9 million refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in the following areas:

16.       basic education and vocational training – all refugee children at school age can benefit from free education in primary and secondary schools run by UNRWA. As a general rule, UNRWA schools follow the same curriculum as the government schools in the host country. The Rapporteur visited schools in all three countries, and got acquainted with the main concerns that they encounter. Inadequate premises constitute the major problem. Moreover many buildings need renovation. Shortage of premises makes it necessary to operate on a double shift basis. But even then, there are too many children in one class (often over 30). Furthermore, the budget for grants for those wishing to continue their education at the university level is far too low. Modest job opportunities after school is another question of concern. Vocational training provided by UNRWA helps to improve the situation but its scope, due to the financial restrictions, is far from being satisfactory;

17.       primary health care including maternal and child health, school health, and outpatient medical services. The Rapporteur visited UNRWA run clinics in three countries. Common problems include shortage of staff (120 patients per doctor daily in Lebanon!), and shortage of medicines. Furthermore, UNRWA contributes to the cost of secondary medical care, especially emergency and life-saving treatment, at public, non-governmental and private health care facilities. In Lebanon, where specialized medical care for refugees is not provided by the state, UNRWA is in the position to cover only part of the costs, which in practice means that some patients are deprived of medical care. To its credit UNRWA reports on 99% immunization coverage against common child diseases and considerable achievements in family health and disease prevention and control. Furthermore, UNRWA contributes to the environmental sanitation;

18.       social welfare and relief for the most needy. UNRWA provides material and financial assistance to refugee families in special hardship, unable to meet own basic needs for food and shelter. About 7-10% families are eligible;

19.       community development services to and with women and refugees with disabilities, assistance to refugees who suffer exceptional socio-economic disadvantage; facilitate their self-reliance by granting micro-credits and training.

3.       Conditions of living

20.       However, it has to be stressed that behind these general common features, the situation of Palestinian refugees varies according to their place of residence.

A.       Jordan

21.       There are nearly 1.7 million Palestinian refugees.3 They constitute around 50% of Jordanian population as a whole. Only 17% live in 10 camps. The conditions of living, in general, are not different from those enjoyed by the local population.

22.       In general, they are very well integrated. The majority enjoys Jordanian citizenship and all civil, political, social and economic rights which follow. Approximately 100 000 persons originating from the Gaza Strip, which up to 1967 was administered by Egypt are eligible for temporary Jordanian passports which do not entitle them to full citizenship rights such as the right to vote and employment with the government, they have a status of displaced persons, and also benefit from UNRWA’s services. A number of refugees (approximately 40 000) have no legal status at all: they are mainly Palestinians who fled other Arab countries after the Gulf War. They are not eligible for UNRWA services.

23.       The cooperation between the host country’s authorities and UNRWA is good and based on complementarity.

24.       According to the opinion expressed by many interlocutors met by the Rapporteur, it is very unlikely that the majority of the refugees would wish to return to their places of origin. However, both the Jordanian officials and refugees’ representative insist on the implementation of UN Resolution 194 (1948), and the right to return or the compensation.

B.       Syria

25.       There are 401 000 refugees who constitute 2.6 % of total population of Syria. 115 000 (29 %) live in the refugee camps. The average living conditions are similar to those of Syrian citizens.

26.       They have no Syrian citizenship, but they get a laissez-passer issued by the Government permitting travel outside the country. They have full access to government education, health, and other social services on the same terms as Syrian citizens. Although for the most part they benefit from UNRWA services in these areas, they are free to use public facilities. They have access to employment and self-employment on the same terms as Syrian citizens, and the right to purchase property for own use (except arable land). Men have the obligation to undertake a two-year military service, as Syrian citizens – in a Palestinian battalion under overall Syrian command. Political rights include the right of political association, membership and office in the Palestinian wing of Ba’ath Party, eligibility for public offices by appointment. In fact, quite a few high-ranking officials are Palestinians. However, as non-citizens, Palestinian refugees have no right to vote in national elections.

27.       The cooperation between UNRWA and the Syrian authorities is also very good. For example, refugee children attend public schools if they are closer to their home, and Syrian children attend refugee schools, run by UNRWA.

28.       The position on the question of return as expressed by the officials and refugees themselves is not different from that in Jordan. There have been no research on the question, but most probably, the majority would rather stay in Syria and accepted a compensation for their lost property in the places of origin.

C.       Lebanon

29.       The situation of the Palestinian refugees is by far the worst in Lebanon. There are 387 000 registered refugees who constitute 11,4 % of total estimated population. According to estimates, further 10 000 are unrecognised and do not possess any kind of ID. 217 000 refugees (56 %) live in 12 existing camps.

30.       The status of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is a result of a difficult political internal situation of that country: Lebanon has been established on the basis of a delicate and sensitive religious/sectarian balance. Any disturbance of this balance can easily destroy the entire demographic mosaic in Lebanon. Such disturbances have been cited as underlying cause of the 20-year civil war. The Palestinian presence is widely considered as a disturbing factor for such critical balance. In consequence, this attitude among Lebanese officials has led to policies and laws aiming at marginalizing the Palestinian population politically, economically and socially in order to prevent their integration. Consecutive Lebanese governments have treated the Palestinian file as a security problem rather than a humanitarian crisis. This position has been fully confirmed by the Rapporteur’s interlocutors on the Government side. The efforts of the Lebanese diplomacy focuses on the possible way of getting Palestinian refugees out of Lebanon. Hence their insistence on the full implementation of UN Resolution 194 (1948), right to return, compensation, and possible resettlement.

31.       Camps in which the majority of Palestinians live, are considered as out-law islands, and refugees are considered as unwelcome guests. The Rapporteur has been informed of a number of restrictions imposed on Palestinian refugees by the Lebanese authorities: 1. restrictions on accommodations and in particular prevention from rebuilding three camps destroyed during the civil war in South Lebanon. In practice, this policy has led to prohibiting the entry of building material to these particular camps and preventing the repair of war-damaged houses by restricting the repair permits. As a result, refugees live in degrading conditions depicted by a population density of 18 persons per square meter in Ain-El-Hilweh Camp in South Lebanon. The situation is aggravated by insufficient water resources, and the lack of stable supply of electric power. There is no basic infrastructure, including the absence of sanitation systems and garbage collection services. 2. Restrictions on employment:: Palestinian refugees can work only if they have a work permit which is subject to the “mutual treatment between countries”. As a result, Palestinians cannot work in around 73 (46 according to the official sources) different professions including doctors, engineers, lawyers. In consequence, many qualified Palestinians have to compete with Syrians for minor jobs or work in the black market. Research made by PHRO demonstrated a 44% of unemployment and 20% of occasional unemployment. Besides round 12 % of children below 17 leave schools in search of jobs mainly in the construction agriculture and services. 3. Palestinian refugees are denied the right to set up organizations and associations. They have no access to judicial support fund, a financial form of aid offered to Lebanese citizens who cannot afford to hire the services of a lawyer to represent them in front of the courts. 4. A recent addition to restrictions was the law passed by the Lebanese Parliament which deprives Palestinians from owning real estate in Lebanon under the veil of preventing citizens of unestablished / unrecognised countries from owning real estate in Lebanon. This category corresponds only to Palestinian refugees.

32.       A major problem is that refugees are not represented. The popular committees in the camps are far from being democratic or representative. Lebanese authorities recognize them only when it comes to security issues. These committees have enough authority to control security and practice their own justice. The Lebanese authorities prohibit the PLO and the Palestinian authority from having any formal representative in Lebanon to manage the conditions of Palestinians.

D.       West Bank and Gaza

33.       There are 626 500 Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, and they constitute 32 % of the total estimated population.168 500 (27 %) live in 19 existing camps.

34.       There are 878 977 Palestinian refugees in Gaza. They constitute 32% of total estimated situation. 468 000 (53%) live in refugee camps.

35.       The main concern in this area is linked to the security situation, in particular since the outbreak of the second conflict in September 2000. Large scale military incursions, restrictions on freedom of movement, prolonged curfews, house demolitions, the destruction of agricultural crops and widespread damage to infrastructure have exacted an alarming toll, economic, medical and social among the civilian population. Refugees, obviously, constitute the most vulnerable category. The unemployment rate is running at more than half the population and close to three-quarters of the refugees in Gaza are living on less than 2$ a day. Over 6000 refugees in the occupied territory have seen their homes completely destroyed by fighting or bulldozing operations and several thousand families have lost a breadwinner to death or serious injury. Birth weights have plummeted and stillbirths have doubled. Education has been severely disrupted by the curfews and restrictions on movement, and traumatise children are achieving results well below norm.

36.       In October 2000, UNRWA began a programme of emergency activities in the West Bank and Gaza. It has provided emergency relief to the urgent humanitarian needs of the refugees caught up in the fighting and tried to provide a safety net for the poorest families. Since September 2000, it has organized emergency shelter for those made homeless, repaired almost 7000 damaged shelters and rebuilt others totally destroyed, regularly delivered food parcels to 220 000 families, created short-term jobs for thousands of unemployed breadwinners, given emergency cash assistance to around 20 000 families in the direst need, and developed compensatory education and counselling programmes in the schools.

37.       The UNRWA representatives met by the Rapporteur in the Headquarters in Amman, complained of the numerous obstacles created by the Israeli army in order to prevent the delivery of the emergency assistance. They raised the question of lengthy bureaucratic procedures in order to get authorization for entering the area and delivery of humanitarian goods; arbitrary decisions; long waiting at check-points, resulting in restrictions in access to medical treatment (cases of pregnant women who had to give birth at the check point as they have been prevented from getting to hospital have been reported); designation of a harbour where the humanitarian goods may be debarked, and high fees imposed on them, restrictions on movement of UNRWA staff, difficulties for the UNRWA staff etc).

E.       Europe

38.       It is estimated that there are more than 200 000 Palestinian refugees and stateless persons currently residing in Europe.4 The exact number is impossible to determine: most states do not include Palestinians as a separate ethnic or national group in their statistics, and categorize them among “other Middle East” or as “stateless”. Estimates for particular Council of Europe member states most concerned are as follows: Germany: 30 000 – 80 000, Denmark: 20 000; UK: 15 000; Sweden: 9 000; France: 3 000.

39.       The majority of Palestinian refugees arrived in Europe during the 1960s and later in search for employment. They were displaced from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem following the 1967 conflict, or fled Lebanon in the 1980s.

40.       The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees contains certain provisions whereby persons otherwise having the characteristics of refugees, as defined in Article 1A, are excluded from the benefits of this Convention. In particular, Paragraph 1 of Article 1D, applies to a special category of refugees for whom separate arrangements have been made to receive protection or assistance from other than UNHCR agencies. This is the case for Palestinian refugees who benefit from the protection or assistance of UNRWA in its areas of operations. However, it is pointed out by many human rights NGOs that UNRWA has only an assistance mandate, and therefore it is not responsible for the protection. The agency, which was mandated with protection of Palestinian refugees, the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) ceased to effectively exist in mid-fifties. Today, no international agency or body has an explicit mandate to provide international protection to all Palestinian refugees.

41.       Whereas paragraph 2 of Article 1 D contains an inclusion clause for certain categories of Palestinian refugees (see para. 9 above), most European states interpret Article 1D in the restrictive way vis-à-vis Palestinian asylum seekers. Moreover, there is no harmonized policy in this respect. Some countries, like Austria and Switzerland, do not apply Article 1D and all Palestinian claims are therefore considered under Article 1A(2), aiming at determining the circumstances that led an applicant to leave the area where UNRWA provides assistance.

42.       In October 2002, UNHCR issued an updated position on the applicability of the 1951 Convention to Palestinian refugees. This more detailed interpretation acknowledges the inclusion clause of Article 1D by recognising the automaticity of the application of the Convention’s protection to some refugees. In consequence, those 1948 and 1967 Palestinian refugees who would otherwise fall within UNRWA’s mandate, do not need to prove individual persecution in order to be protected under the 1951 Convention. Neither do they have to prove that they are outside areas of UNRWA operation involuntarily. This revised interpretation of the applicability of Article 1D to Palestinian refugees essentially brings most Palestinian refugees in Europe ipso facto within the protection of the 1951 Convention with one exception: female refugees married to non-refugees. UNRWA’s policy of refugee registration in accordance to descendants of the male line does not correspond to the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality, and should be revised.

43.       Another concern refers to Palestinian persons who are holders of refugee travel documents. Their status is described as “indeterminate”, they encounter difficulties when applying for asylum, family reunion, or other refugee status related rights and benefits. The issue of statelessness may also arise for some Palestinians, in particular where they are born in countries which are party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness or to the 1997 European Convention on Nationality. In some instances, Palestinians may have a claim to nationality in these countries.

4.       Particular concerns

44.       The question of legal status is essential for the legal, social and economic situation in general. Unfortunately, the issue has become highly politicised. It has thus been extremely difficult to address it within the usual legal and humanitarian framework usually applied to refugee issues in Europe.

45.       In the occupied areas, there is general concern about the situation of civilian population, and the lack of access to medical treatment for many specific groups such as pregnant women, diabetics and those dependent on dialysis treatment. The destruction of houses and infrastructure such as sewage and water pipes and the breakdown of the garbage disposal system may result in very serious problems.

46.       Israeli Government is accused by human rights organization of non-compliance with international humanitarian law during the military operations and non-accountability for alleged abuses.

47.       Access of international humanitarian organizations to the areas covered by military operations is a question of major concern. Free movement of UNRWA staff is another problem.

48.       In Lebanon, the situation of Palestinian refugees is unacceptable. While some arguments of the Lebanese authorities concerning their position in this respect may be understood to some extent, a solution has to be found. International community, including Council of Europe member states should contribute to this end.

49.       The international community should step up its voluntary financial contribution to the budget of UNRWA. The annual increase does not reflect the natural growth of the Palestinian refugee population being assisted by this agency. The financial shortcomings are clearly visible in all fields of UNRWA’s activities.

50.       Unfortunately, the question of refugees is used as an instrument in political action by both sides of the conflict thus making it much more difficult to find a durable solution.

51.       The idea, included in Resolution 1156 (1998) of the Parliamentary Assembly of establishing of a Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund under the aegis of the United Nations to finance the forthcoming cost of resettlement has never been implemented. There is no serious international debate on a durable solutions offered to the Palestinian refugees. Similarly, there is no political and academic research and studies concerning refugee problems and compensations.

5.       Recommendations

52.       The refugee problem should not be considered as another political outcome of the Middle East conflict, to which solution awaits the political settlement. Refugees problem is primarily a humanitarian one.

53.       Examine the issues relating to the legal status of Palestinian refugees throughout the world, and come up with concrete initiatives to ensure that all Palestinian persons displaced from their homes of origin are provided with an appropriate legal status entitling them to all basic socio-economic rights pending their potential return.

54.       Council of Europe member states should harmonize their policies in this respect, notably by effectively implementing UNHCR’s new guidelines on the applicability of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Furthermore, full-fledged refugees thus legally recognised should be entitled to the full benefits of socio-economic rights, including family reunion, normally accorded to recognised refugees in these member states.

55.       Promote research aimed at obtaining statistics concerning Palestinian refugees and their status in Council of Europe member states.

56.       Promote the idea of establishing of a Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund under the aegis of the United Nations to finance the forthcoming cost of resettlement and promote a choice of options for a durable solution including the compensations among the refugee population.

57.       Support programmes aimed at establishing and strengthening democratic values and human rights awareness; provide legal aid to refugees in face of host countries discriminative laws, support programmes of relief, development, youth rehabilitation, women’s activities, career orientation, vocational training.

58.       Support the activities of the UNRWA by stepping up voluntary financial contributions to its budget. Donors providing financial support to UNRWA should increase their contributions at least to allow UNRWA cover the normal population growth, and fulfil UNRWA’s obligations especially towards of education and health.

59.       Palestinian NGOs should be recognized in all host countries.

60.       Exercise continuous pressure on the Israeli Government in order to ensure compliance with the humanitarian international law during military operations, and that every case of alleged human rights violation, including those at the check-points, be investigated, and perpetrators be prosecuted.

61.       Exercise continuous pressure on the Israeli Government to allow for free access of international humanitarian organizations, and remove bureaucratic obstacles to delivery of humanitarian goods.

APPENDIX 1

The humanitarian situation of the Palestinian refugees in the Middle East

Visit by Mr Akselsen, Rapporteur

Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, 17-22 November 2002

PROGRAMME

18 November 2002, Monday

2.05 am       Arrival in Amman LH 3618 from Frankfurt. Transfer to Sheraton Hotel, tel. 00962-6-593 4111

8.30 am       Pick up from hotel

9-11 am       Meetings at UNRWA Headquarters Amman with Programme Directors:

11.30 am       Meeting with Mr Abdul-Kerim ABULHAIJA, Head of Department of Palestinian Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs

12.30 Lunch

2 pm       Meeting with Mr Mohammed ABU-BAKER, Director, Department of Refugee Affairs, PLO

3.15 pm       Meeting with the Norwegian Ambassador Sverre Stub

8 pm        Dinner at the Ambassador’s residence, 21, Abdul Majeed Al Adwan St, Abdoun, tel. 00962-6-593 2016

19 November 2002, Tuesday

8 am       UNRWA Programme

9.30 am       Leave for Beqa'a camp with Mr. Matar Saqer, UNRWA Public Information Officer, Jordan

10 am       Camp services office, briefing by Mr. Ismael Saleh, Area Officer, North Amman

10.30 am       Visit to Girls School; briefing by Dr. Omar Ghabayen, Chief Field Education Programme

11.30 am       Visit health center; briefing by Dr. Zuhair Zu'bi, Chief Field Health Programme

12.00       Meeting with camp improvement committee

1 pm       Return to hotel

2.30-3 pm        Departure from Amman to Damascus

7.00 pm       Arrival in Damascus

7.30 pm        Meeting with Syrian official(s) (arranged by Norwegian Embassy in co-ordination with UNRWA Field Office)

Dinner hosted by Ambassador Svein Sevje, Embassy tel.: 00963-11-332 20 72

Staying at hotel Sheraton

20 November 2002, Wednesday

7.45 am       Meeting with Ms Angela Williams, Director, UNRWA Syria Field Office

8.15 am       Field visit

3.00 pm       Meeting with Mr Issa Derwish, Head of Arab Department, MFA

7.00 pm       Departure for Beirut (can be brought forward if so wished)

 

21 November 2002, Thursday

9.00 am       Pick up from the hotel

9.30 am       Meeting with Mr Elias Murr, Minister of Interior

10.00 am       Departure to UNRWA Field Office

10.30 am       Meeting with Mr Alfredo Micchio, Director UNRWA, Lebanon

11.30 am       Departure for CLA camps

11.45-12.45 am       Visit Bourj Barajneh camp

12.45       Departure to Shatilla camp

1.00-2.15 pm       Visit Shatilla camp

2.15 pm       Departure from Shatilla camp

2.30 pm       Meeting with Mr Kassem Aina, Coordination of NGOs' forum and

4.00 pm       Return to hotel

7.30 pm       Pick up from the hotel

8.00 pm       Working dinner

11.00 pm       Departure to the airport

22 November 2002, Friday

2.50 am departure LH 3615 to Frankfurt

APPENDIX 2

Hearing on the situation of Palestinian refugees in Europe

Budapest, 16 December 2002 from 2 pm to 5.30 pm

(European Youth Centre, Zivatar utca 1-3, 1024 Budapest (Hungary), Tel. +36 1 212 4078, Fax +36 1 212 4076, Web-site: www.eycb.coe.int)

PROGRAMME

2 pm       OPENING OF THE HEARING

5.30 pm        CLOSING OF THE HEARING

Reporting Committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Reference to Committee: Doc. 9359, Refence No. 2704 of 26 March 2002.

Draft recommendation adopted by the Committee on 5 May 2003 with 29 votes in favour, 0 votes against, and 2 abstentions. Draft resolution adopted by the Committee on 5 May 2003 with 30 votes in favour, 0 votes against, and 1 abstention.

Members of the Committee: Mr Iwiński (Chairperson), Mr Einarsson (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Bušić (2nd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs de Zulueta (3rd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Akgün, MM. Akhvlediani, Aliyev G., Arabadjiev, de Arístegui (alternate: Ms Torrado), Arzilli, Bernik, Van den Brande, Branger, Braun, Brînzan (alternate: Tudose), Brunhart, Cabrnoch, Çavusoğlu, Christodoulides, Cilevičs, Çörüz (alternate: Duivesteijn), Danieli, Debarge (alternate: Salles), M. Dmitrijevas, Dokle, Donabauer, Dubié, Mrs Err, Mrs Filipiová, Mr Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, Mrs Frimannsdóttir, MM. Grzesik, Grzyb, Gülçiçek, Hagberg, Hancock, Higgins, Mrs Hoffmann, MM. Hovhannisyan, Ilaşcu, Ivanov, Lord Judd, Mr Karpov, Mrs Kósá-Kovács, MM. Koulouris, Kulikov, Kvakkestad, Laakso, Le Guen, Liapis, Loutfi, Matviychuk, Mrs Nabholz-Haidegger, MM. Naro, Nasufi, Nessa, Popa, Prijmireanu, Puche, Pullicino Orlando, Raguž, Rakhansky, Reymann, Mrs Shakhtakhtinskaya, MM. Slutsky, Soendergaard, Mrs Stoisits, MM. Stübgen, Tekelioğlu, Tkáč, Vera Jardim, Mrs Vermot-Mangold, MM. Vieira, Wilkinson, Wray (alternate: Etherington), Yáñez-Barnuevo, Zavgayev, Zhirinovsky, Mrs Zwerver.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretariat of the Committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo, Mrs Sirtori-Milner


1 See Doc. 8042.

2 See Doc 9500, Rapporteur: Mr Iwiński.

3 All figures come from UNRWA and were updated on 30 June 2002. Some of them are contested by NGOs. For example a Norwegian research association FAFO claims that all figures are too high, many refugees are never de-registered, and others are registered twice. On the other hand, representatives of the Palestinian organizations met by the Rapporteur, claim that the real figures are higher. UNRWA admits that figures may not be exact, as there is no way to properly verify them.

4 Source: BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights