The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law


The conflict over Palestine has produced one of the most tragic and compelling refugee crises of the post Second World War era. In the Palestinian-Israeli Declaration of Principles, signed at Washington, DC, in 1993, the fate of the 3.4 million Palestinian refugees was identified as one of the outstanding issues to be addressed in subsequent negotiations. This book explores the status of Palestinian refugees in international law focusing both on the position of Palestinians in the Arab world and in Western countries. It contains a thorough and useful analysis of various areas of international law, including refugee law, the law relating to stateless persons, humanitarian law, and human rights law, and probes their relevance to the provision of international protection for Palestinian refugees within the context of the Middle East peace process.


To become a refugee is to find oneself summarily deprived of the protections and safeguards which nationality and citizenship normally confer. At a stroke, the refugee loses home, property and means of livelihood, the whole array of civil and political, economic and cultural rights which the state is traditionally expected to uphold and guarantee. Often the victim of war, the refugee typically has scant opportunity to prepare for flight and accordingly is immediately faced with the most basic needs of food and shelter. It is this situation which those assisting refugees must confront as a most urgent practicality and which international refugee law attempts to remedy. It is a phenomenon with which the world has become too familiar in recent years.

The refugees from the war in Palestine in 1948 constitute one of the largest and most enduring of the world's refugee problems. The great majority of those who fled found refuge in the neighbouring states, and it is there that they and their descendants live to this day, many still in the refugee camps of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There, throughout a succession of wars and civil commotion, they have maintained their distinctive status and asserted their legitimate rights, as internationally recognized. It is in this setting that the unique profile of the Palestine refugees has been forged and that the particular legal regime applicable to them has developed.

Central to any description of this regime is the work of UNRWA, the agency of the United Nations charged with the welfare of the Palestine refugees. For over forty-five years the Agency has directly provided to the refugees the humanitarian services essential to their welfare, pending a political resolution to the question of Palestine. In doing so, the Agency has given practical meaning to established legal principles concerning the status of refugees, particularly in the fields of education, health, relief services and employment opportunities. Indeed, to many refugees the very existence of UNRWA is a sign of the enduring commitment of the international community to achieve a just solution to their plight.

I have known Dr Takkenberg as a colleague and it gives me pleasure to introduce this book, which constitutes an extensive exposition of the legal framework applicable to the Palestine refugees. Given the controversial nature of the subject matter, aspects of the analysis leave room for further argument and differing views. The book charts the assistance which has been provided to them over the years, as the refugees' own needs have changed and available resources have increased and, more recently, declined. Fortuitously, it appears at a time when the refugee . . .

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