The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

By Lex Takkenberg | Go to book overview
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IV The Status of Palestinian Refugees in the Arab World

1. Introductory Remarks

The Palestinian refugee issue is an international problem, the burden of which is primarily carried by the Arab world. It was in the Arab states and territories neighbouring the newly created state of Israel where the vast majority of the Palestinian refugees initially took refuge and where today most of these refugees and their descendants continue to live: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. Smaller groups settled in 1948 in Arab countries elsewhere in the Middle East, mainly in Iraq and Libya. During the following decades many Palestinian refugees left their countries of original refuge to work in the Arabian peninsula.1

Only seven Arab states were fully independent in 1948: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the former state of North Yemen.2 It was these seven states who in 1945, encouraged by Britain, founded the League of Arab States, commonly referred to as the Arab League.3 Five of the seven were also founding members of the United Nations.4 As was seen in chapters II and III,5 it was these Arab states who were instrumental in bringing about the unique role of the United Nationsvis-à-vis the Palestinian refugees. After having been closely involved in the creation of Israel, the United Nations became directly responsible for the care of these refugees, initially by setting up a special relief fund and in 1950 through the establishment of UNRWA. At the same time these same states advocated the temporary exclusion-as long as UNRWA would continue its assistance-of Palestinian refugees from the mandate of UNHCR and from the regime of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.

Where does the above leave the Palestinian refugees? Although the international community recognized their right to return home, the

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1
For example, some 350,000 to 400,000 Palestinians were living in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion in Aug. 1990; see sub-section 3.4, below.
2
North Yemen became independent in 1918, Iraq and Saudi Arabia followed in 1932, Egypt in 1936, Lebanon in 1943, and, finally, Jordan and Syria in 1946; cf. Arnold G., The Third World Handbook, London, Cassell Educational Ltd., 1989, 74.
3
See section 2, below.
4
Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria; cf. Arnold, 1989, 75.
5
See ch. II, section 2; ch. III, section 2.

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