The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

By Lex Takkenberg | Go to book overview

III The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

I. Introductory remarks

This chapter will focus on the position of Palestinian refugees under the main and universal instrument of international refugee law, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 28 July 1951,1 hereinafter the 1951 Convention. In addition to providing a universal definition of the term refugee,2 the 1951 Convention establishes a number of basic obligations of which non-refoulement is the most important. According to article 33, paragraph 1, 'No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.'3

Non-refoulement has generally not been an issue in respect of Palestinian refugees. As discussed in the first two chapters, the political status in the country of former residence of the refugees had changed since their departure due to the establishment of the state of Israel. As early as June 1948, the Israeli government declared as its policy that Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return. Consequently, the Arab host countries had no choice but to allow the refugees to reside on their territory, while basic services were provided by UNRWA.

Other specific rights of refugees provided by the 1951 Convention include: recognition of the law of personal status (article 12); the provision of administrative assistance (article 25); the issue of identity papers (article 27); the issue of travel documents (article 28); the grant of permission to transfer assets (article 30); exemption from penalties in respect of illegal entry or presence (article 31); limitations on the liability

____________________
1
Signed at Geneva, 28 July 1951. Entry into force: 22 Apr. 1954. Text: 189 UNTS 150; also UNHCR, Collection of International Instruments concerning Refugees, Geneva, 1988, 10.
2
CSR51, art. 1; see ch. II, introductory paras. of section 2.
3
On the principle of non-refoulement, see: Grahl-Madsen A., The Status of Refugees in International Law, vol. ii, Asylum, Entry and Sojourn, Leyden, Sijthoff, 1972, 93; Goodwin- G. S. Gill , The Refugee in International Law, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996 ( 2nd edn.), 117; Hathaway, 1991, 24; Robinson, 1953, 160.

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