The rejected: Syrian war forces Palestinians into overcrowded camps

May 31, 2013
Sarah Benton

Josh Wood, NY Times, talks with Palestinian refugees about their escape to unwelcoming Lebanon; 2) The Economist on the Palestinian fractures which the Syrian war has intensified; 3) Al Shabaka looks at the common refusal to take responsibility for Palestinian refugees.

The ‘dismal Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in South Beirut’ has become a slum since the influx from Syria. Photo by Mohammed Asad / APA images.

Palestinian Refugees Flee Syria to Find Poor Conditions in Lebanese Camps

By Josh Wood, NY Times
May 29, 2013

BEIRUT — As Syria’s civil war has increasingly encroached on Damascus and its environs in the past six months, tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in and around the capital have found their lives once more uprooted by conflict

According to the United Nations, more than 56,000 Palestinians living in Syria, mostly from the Damascus region, have fled into neighboring Lebanon, joining nearly half a million Syrian refugees as well as an already established Palestinian refugee community estimated to be between 260,000 and 400,000 strong.

Already overcrowded, the dismal Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in South Beirut is receiving some of the inflow. Established in 1948 to shelter the initial wave of Palestinians displaced by the creation of the state of Israel, the camp is now home to tens of thousands packed into a slum measuring about one square kilometer, or a third of a square mile.

Along the camp’s main street, one of the few wide enough for cars to pass, armed guards laze in front of faction buildings. From there, a twisting labyrinth of narrow alleyways lead into the heart of the camp. Puddles of sewage slush underfoot and overhead, tangled electricity cables hang so low that pedestrians must duck to avoid them.

During Lebanon’s brutal civil war, from 1975 to 1990, Beirut’s refugee camps became at times major battlefields. Many of Burj al-Barajneh’s buildings still bear the scars of bullets and shells.

With no room to expand the camp as its population grows, flimsily constructed floors have been added on top of older buildings, keeping some alleyways permanently shrouded in darkness.

A stark message, “2013 is the year of death” is spray-painted on a wall at the edge of the camp.

“The only open space we have in the camp is where we bury our dead,” said Ahmed Mustafa, a representative of a council of Palestinian factions that manages the camps in Lebanon.

“The situation in the camps is so overcrowded,” said Ann Dismorr, the highest representative in Lebanon for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the agency that handles the affairs of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. “It was before, and now the total Palestinian refugee population has increased by 20 percent in a few months.”

“In the early days, we had Palestinians from Syria returning when they saw the conditions in the camps,” Mrs. Dismorr said in an interview this month.

But as the fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces intensified in Damascus, the Palestinians found themselves caught in the middle.

“We are being tortured by both sides,” said Mahmoud Hamide, a 39-year-old refugee from Yarmouk, Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, several kilometers south of central Damascus.

One night in December, Mr. Hamide said, his wife Leenda Habbash, 35, was washing dishes in their small home, a rooftop apartment constructed of concrete blocks. Free Syrian Army units had taken up positions inside the camp and government forces were shelling the area. “We could not sleep at the time because of the heavy clashes and shelling,” he said.

At about 11 P.M., a shell came through the roof of the apartment, exploding in a room where their nine-month-old son, Ahmed, was asleep. The wall next to the baby collapsed and killed him. Mr. Hamide and his wife were wounded.

“My wife was in the hospital and kept asking about the baby,” Mr. Hamide said. “I kept telling her that the baby was fine and nothing happened.”

When Mr. Hamide’s wife eventually found out what had happened to their son, she was devastated. From the hospital, they fled to a village that had not yet been hit by violence and then across the border to Lebanon. Now, they live with eight other people in a cramped, moldy room in Burj al-Barajneh.

Shrapnel from the shell that killed his son cut through Mr. Hamide’s right hand, damaging the nerves. Like many men in the camp, he tries to make a living as a manual laborer but work is scarce and the injury has gotten in the way.

The family’s life now is very different from the one they had before.

“Yarmouk camp in Syria used to be like Hamra Street in Lebanon,” said Mrs. Habbash, referring to one of Beirut’s main thoroughfares known for its shops and cafes. “It was a city, not a camp.”

“But what can you do? This is our destiny and this is our luck.”

Others echo these sentiments: “Out of Palestinians living in camps in other Arab countries, we were the happiest,” said Majida al-Mahmoud Husseini, another refugee from Yarmouk. “We had an extremely good life before the war.”

Few Palestinians in Lebanon speak positively about conditions here. Relations between the Lebanese and Palestinian refugees have always been uneasy at best. Palestinian militias played a major role in the country’s civil war, a participation that led many Lebanese to view the community with disdain.

The legal rights of Palestinians are severely restricted in Lebanon. They are barred from most skilled professions and not allowed to own land. There is a widespread fear among many Lebanese that granting Palestinians greater rights could serve as a stepping stone towards naturalization, which could disrupt the country’s precariously balanced system of sectarian politics.

The disadvantaged situation of Palestinians in Lebanon has kept large numbers trapped in dire poverty.

Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps have also long been a battlefield for domestic and foreign groups looking to wield influence. A short walk through many camps will pass posters for the militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah; Palestinian jihadi groups like the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade; has-been communist parties; President Bashar al-Assad of Syria; Saad Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon; and many others. In some camps there are regular bouts of violence between the dizzying numbers of factions operating in them. With little else to do, young men join the militias.

The harshness of camp life means that many Palestinians who have arrived from Syria will return once the war ends, Mrs. Dismorr said.

“We believe that they want to return when the crisis is over — they have a very different set of rights and living standards in Syria,” she said.

But for now, the number of refugees is growing, and aid is the first priority.

Outside the umbrella of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Palestinians arriving from Syria rely on aid from nongovernmental organizations, UNRWA and local factions. Long hobbled by shortages, UNRWA is providing some small cash payments to refugees for rent and expenses, but the organization can only afford such payments every several months.

As the Syrian war swells the ranks of the Middle East’s displaced people, Mrs. Dismorr urged that Palestinians caught in the conflict not be forgotten.

“We must not allow the Palestinians to yet again be marginalized and fall into the shadow,” she said.

The difficulty of picking sides

By N.P., The Economist
May 24, 2013

HAVING wrecked the lives of Syria’s half a million Palestinian residents, Syria’s civil war has begun prising apart Palestinians over the border in Israel and the Palestinian territories, too. In Syria, the war has displaced 235,000 Palestinians and killed hundreds more as they take up arms on both sides of the conflict. But it has also intensified fractures in the Palestinian leadership, as the two camps—the nationalist Fatah movement whose stronghold lies in the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules Gaza—back opposing sides.

The Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon is not a place of safety; it is notorious for the conflict between young men from the Palestinian factions. Photo by Mahmoud Zayyat/ AFP.

While Fatah warns against turning on President Bashar Assad’s regime, lest he follow the example of Kuwait’s emir in 1991 and expel his long-integrated Palestinian population in revenge, Hamas leaders say they cannot stand with a dictator’s slaughter of his people. While Fatah officials have supported the Syrian regime in evicting rebels from Palestinian camps south of Damascus, the capital, their Hamas rivals have closed their Damascus headquarters, and sent fighters to join the rebels. The Assad regime “took the wrong option—they were wrong about their vision toward the conflict,” Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s leader, told Foreign Policy in mid-May, a year after abandoning his base in Syria.

The visit to Gaza earlier this month of Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, a Qatari-based Islamist cleric who has issued fatwas urging Muslims to join the armed uprising, only deepened the cleavage. Hamas police in the town of Khan Younis clubbed demonstrators waving portraits of Mr Assad, and arrested journalists covering the rally for al-Manar, the television station of Hizbullah, the Shia Lebanese party-cum-militia and a one-time Hamas ally which backs the Syrians regime.

Meanwhile, Assad supporters interrupted Easter celebrations in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, chanting their support of “God, Syria and Bashar alone”. As in Lebanon, many Palestinian Christians see Mr Assad as a protector of minorities, and share his fear of an ascendant Sunni majority which has precipitated a Christian flight in other parts of the Middle East.

Old loyalties die hard. Some Palestinians still look to Assad’s Syria as the region’s last bastion of secular Arab nationalism, and deem the rebellion a conspiracy cooked up by Gulf and Western powers. Sometimes the rift courses through families, pitting pro-Assad patriarchs against their revolutionary sons. Assad supporters also disrupted coverage of a rally marking the naqba, or Palestinian exodus in 1948, by Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned television channel which has backed Syria’s armed uprising.

Surveys reveal the depth of the divide. According to a poll by the University of Haifa, Israel’s third-biggest city, more than one in four Arab-Israelis support the Assad regime, but confusion abounds. Some, like Azmi Bishara, a prominent Christian politician who fled Israel in 2007 amid allegations of espionage, have turned from defending to deploring Mr Assad; liberals have retracted initial support for the rebels, shocked by their Islamist radicalism and violence.

Palestinian supporters of the Syrian regime have called up talk-shows like Kalam Mubasher (Straight Talking) on Al-Shams, an Arabic radio station, to denounce rebels as stooges of al-Qaeda. “Shabiha,” replies the host accusingly, referring to them as members of Mr Assad’s militia. But such outspoken denunciation of Assad supporters is increasingly rare. Politicians avoid debating the issue in public, not least because many of the older leadership, particularly in the communist party, Hadash, appear to harbour sympathies for Mr Assad.

“Supporters of the revolution are very quiet, especially given that so many have been killed,” says Asad Ghanem, the Haifa University academic who conducted the poll. “Palestinians in Israel say they want more democracy in Israel so they should want more in Syria as well. But there’s no real action,” he laments. “Instead they just call the revolutionaries terrorists.”

Wavel camp in the Bekaa valley. It was the first Palestinian refugee camp to be established in Lebanon (1948) when it housed 7-8,000 displaced persons. Its population had been slowly diminishing  until the beginning of this year, since when thousands and thousands of Palestinian refugees from Syrian camps have fled here, trebling its population but not its size or amenities.

The Price of Statelessness: Palestinian Refugees From Syria

By Rosemary Sayigh, Al-Shabaka commentary
15 May 2013

“Palestinians never seem to have the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next one is upon them.” –Joe Sacco, Footnotes in Gaza (New York, 2009: xi)

Tragedy and resistance have been linked to Palestinians’ history since the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and it is no surprise that there is an organic relationship between the current Arab uprisings and Palestinian resistance. Yet the Arab uprisings have exploded the post-1948 framework of existence of those Palestinians who live in the Arab world as refugees. As happened in the wake of the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, the uprisings have exposed the basic insecurity and the loss of human rights to which statelessness makes Palestinians vulnerable. With the current displacement and cross-border flight of Palestinian refugees in Syria, a new tragedy unfolds.

A recent crisis report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates that 400,000 of these Palestinian refugees, formerly self-supporting, are now in need of humanitarian assistance.1 Some 32,000 have sought sanctuary in Lebanon, around 4,500 in Jordan, and others are in Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. Communities that re-constructed themselves after the Nakba have once again been split and scattered, partly as internally displaced in Syria itself, partly as second-time refugees in neighboring countries. Between 120 and 200 Palestinian deaths have been reported so far, and with the civil war increasingly involving the refugee camps since last December, casualties are growing. Several of the casualties have been UNRWA staff members. Practically all the refugee camps in Syria have been pulled into the fighting, shelled by both government forces and the Free Syrian Army. As the regional and international supporters of the two sides increase military assistance the flow of refugees escaping Syria can only increase, as will the number of the displaced inside Syria.

The simultaneous flight of Syrians and Palestinians from Syria reveals intertwined levels of discrimination: International, national and local. Internationally, donations have flooded in for displaced Syrians while UNRWA, chronically in deficit, is having difficulty obtaining emergency funds to help displaced Palestinians. UNRWA’s Response Plan calls for $26.85 million of which only $19.04 million has been received so far. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aided by a large cohort of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and international funding, assists Syrian refugees in Lebanon, while UNRWA’s capacity for aiding Palestinian refugees is exhausted to the point where its schools have had to stop taking in children from Syria. While some Palestinian NGOs in Lebanon also help Syrian refugees the reverse is not true for UNHCR and Lebanese NGOs. Space has been allocated to shelter Syrian refugees, but Palestinians have been forced to crowd into already over-crowded camps, two or three families in a single shelter. There are stories in ‘Ain Helweh of people sleeping on stairways and the beaches. Some manage to sleep in UNRWA schools but have to evacuate them during the day. Some people sleep in shifts.

Mahmoud Abbas has taken several initiatives to protect Palestinians in Syria, sending delegations to Damascus to plead for neutrality for the camps, and appealing for refugees to be allowed to take sanctuary in the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel has refused this appeal unless transferees formally disclaim the right of return. Abbas’s failed efforts highlight both the Palestinian Authority (PA) lack of sovereignty over the occupied territory, and Palestinians’ lack of protection under present legal and political conditions.

The different fates of Syrian and Palestinian refugees escaping war in Syria further illuminates the price Palestinians pay for statelessness. Jordan has permitted Syrian refugees to enter, and to move freely once inside Jordanian territory. Where Palestinian refugees are concerned, however, Jordan stopped allowing them entry in August 2012; further, the 4,500 or so it had allowed to enter earlier are incarcerated in CyberCity near Ramtha, and are only allowed to leave there if they return to Syria. Lebanon similarly has allowed free entry to Syrian refugees, whereas Palestinians until recently have only been allowed to enter if they had relatives in Lebanon. On entry every Palestinian must obtain a permit costing $17 that has to be renewed every three months.2 Such a high tax on temporary residence appears unjustified in view of the fact that Lebanon offers no public services to Palestinians, and excludes them from most kinds of employment. In fact, it constitutes a form of refoulement* (forced return) of the kind that UNHCR is mandated to prevent.

This differentiation between Syrian and Palestinian refugees on the part of neighboring Arab states mirrors a differentiation at the level of the United Nations. UNHCR’s mission specifically excludes Palestinians. Instead they are served by a separate agency, UNRWA, and UNRWA’s mission does not include protection. Thus even though the UNHCR and UNRWA are working jointly under the Syrian Regional Response Plan to assist all refugees from Syria, it is not clear so far if the UNHCR will exercise its protective mission to pressure Jordan and Lebanon to stop turning away Palestinians seeking sanctuary, or to prevent discriminatory treatment. As Terry Rempel points out, no international agency has an explicit mandate to systematically work for the realization of the basic human rights of the Palestinian refugees. He adds, “No other refugee community in the world is so excluded.” UNRWA has played an essential part in assisting the Palestinians to survive the 1948 Nakba, but the perception that it “looks after” the Palestinians en bloc and in every respect has concealed the ways it has not and cannot do so.

Forced to leave Syria where they had equal rights to state resources, such as medical care and education, those Palestinians from Syria face both state and social discrimination in Lebanon. A Palestinian mother who recently fled Syria tells a reporter, “I am worried for the children. School has already begun and UNRWA has told us the schools are full. We were risking the ultimate price of fatality by staying in Syria, but here the cost of living makes survival just as much of a struggle if not more.” This mother continues, “The Lebanese government allows a Syrian refugee to work, to stay for six months, and to renew their visiting permit for free. Why is it different for the Palestinians?”

Lebanese regulations against the employment of Palestinians have forced many Palestinians back to Syria. Though they continue to flee Syria for Lebanon, we can only guess how many have remained, risking death, because of what they would face if they take refuge in Lebanon. Palestinians in ‘Ain Helweh, the largest area of their concentration, have demonstrated for jobs and assistance, but there is no sign that the Lebanese state or the international community is listening. Thousands of Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria to Lebanon face this brutal paradox on a daily basis. For them, the fate of discrimination and inequality in Lebanon is as dire as the fate of violence in Syria.

Before we blame Lebanon and Syria for their harsh policies towards Palestinian refugees, we should remember that if the Great Powers had insisted on Israel repatriating the refugees after the 1948 Nakba according to UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (December 1948), the refugee problem would not exist today, and the Arab states would not have to deal with it. Instead the Arab states have learned to treat the Palestinians as a people without national, civic or even human rights, as do Britain, the United States and the European community. And those countries do not exactly have a better record when it comes to refugees. Rempel recalls that the United States, UNHCR’s largest state donor, spent some $2 billion on military aid to Afghans fighting the Soviet-allied regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but found only $14 million in cash for aid for 4.5 million Afghan refugees in 1992.

The current underfunding of UNRWA that handicaps its ability to assist Palestinian refugees from Syria is yet another facet of the non-recognition of Palestinian national rights by the decision-makers within the UN system. Britain and the US were the two powers most instrumental in the planning of UNRWA, and it is clear that they envisioned the Agency’s task as temporary support, followed by the integration of the refugees into other Arab economies3. In this way, the Palestinians as a people with national rights would be made to disappear through their embrace by a humanitarian organization. The legacies of this defining policy are still played out in the way Arab states design their own policies toward Palestinian refugees, even when these states claim to support the Palestinian “cause.”

As the largest refugee camp in Lebanon ‘Ain Helweh near Sidon has received the largest number of refugees from Syria. Homes are bursting. Sara tells me there are 16 refugees in her neighbor’s house. I visited Um Hazem, who came from Yarmouk in December to the home of her parents and younger brother in ‘Ain Helweh. An elderly woman who can remember the Nakba of 1948, she weeps at particularly difficult points in her story, overcome by loss of home, separation from loved ones, and the lack of certainty about return. She describes how she stayed in Yarmouk until the “last moment,” repeating that “we weren’t afraid” when battles started on the fringe of the camp, or when Syrian aircraft bombed the mosque. It was only when mortars and missiles started to fall around them, and nearby houses began to collapse, that she decided to leave with her daughter-in-law and the children. Her husband and several of her adult children stayed in Yarmouk. Their fate there is a constant source of deep-set anxiety.

They didn’t leave Syria straight away – “Who wants to leave their home?” – but stayed for a while in Sheeh, an hour’s drive from Damascus, hoping that the fighting would end. In late December, when fighting intensified in Yarmouk, they were persuaded by Um Hazem’s brother in ‘Ain Helweh to take refuge there. He was worried by her heart condition and thought she would be better looked after in Lebanon. But UNRWA’s chronic deficit shows up in the limited medical and educational services it can offer the new refugees. Um Hazem needs medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She shows me a few pills wrapped up in a Kleenex which her doctor in Syria warned her not to stop taking. In Lebanon this medication is only available on the free market at a prohibitive cost, and UNRWA does not cover it.

When they first arrived, UNRWA registered them and distributed some food aid, blankets and mattresses, but they have seen nothing since. Now Um Hazem’s adult sons cannot find work so that all their living expenses have to be covered by her brother. A rumor is going round the camp that Algeria has opened its doors to Palestinian refugees from Syria. Her sons are ready to go anywhere they can find jobs, which would mean yet further splitting up of her family. Meanwhile they have to renew their visas at the Municipality every three months.

In spite of the flow into Lebanon of international funds for the refugees from Syria, people in ‘Ain Helweh say they don’t see the NGOs to which international funds are channeled. The extent to which this is a problem of poor coordination and ad hoc distribution common to disaster relief efforts or is due to factors specific to Lebanon and its NGOs remains unclear. There is one point everyone I meet agrees upon, whether social workers or refugees: It is local communities, both Palestinian and Lebanese, that have sustained the refugees from Syria. If it were not for them, hundreds, maybe thousands, would have died from lack of shelter and food, especially during the extreme cold and freezing temperatures in January. For example, in ‘Ain Helweh it is said that the Popular Committee collects money from residents to buy bread and distribute it to the refugees. Perhaps half the population has refugees staying with them. Neighbor-to-neighbor donations fill in some gaps. Nonetheless a refugee from Syria committed suicide in ‘Ain Helweh in early January because he was unable to bring home food for his wife and four children. A criticism I hear frequently of the UNHCR Response Plan is that the larger part of its funds go to workshops and training programs that benefit salaried employees rather than in direct material aid to those most in need.

The urgency of the refugees’ need for material aid is driven home by their protests. Palestinian refugees from Syria in March began a day-and-night “live-in” outside UNRWA headquarters in Beirut to protest the lack of housing, medical care, schooling and food. In a call for help for the protesters Abu Mujahed, director of a centre for children in Shatila refugee camp, sent a message dated March 17: “Two days ago it rained at night. They didn’t have any shelter… when we thought of moving the children and women to their homes until morning, the surprise was that many of them have no houses to go to… the refugees have stopped believing the excuses of the donors such as lack of knowledge, or that they are working on needs assessment, or they are waiting for the answers to their appeals. The refugees believe that the government is only concerned to support the military groups and gangs involved in the war in Syria.”4

The overall situation is particularly worrying for three reasons: there is no resolution of the Syrian conflict in sight; there have already been incidents in camps in Lebanon that suggest that the Syrian conflict is being reproduced there; and UNRWA is not merely victim of a chronic budget deficits, but is facing the likelihood of “devastating” cuts in contributions from the U.S. In addition, there is an American-based campaign against UNRWA that portrays it as the major block to “peace negotiations” because it sustains refugee rights and identity.

Indeed, even as UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi visited Washington to fight for the Agency’s life at this critical time, a think tank called “The Middle East Forum,” was holding a conference at the Harvard Club in New York on “Changing US Policy on UNRWA and the Palestine Refugees.” Participants included Israel’s envoy to the UN, Ron Prosor, and it was opened by Daniel Pipes, advocate of a campaign to draft U.S. legislation intended to end the automatic transmission of refugee status to the descendants of Palestinians that has been taking place since 1948, in line with UNRWA’s mission to sustain the refugees until their problem is solved.

What does the future hold for the Palestinian refugees from Syria? The likelihood is, tragically, that fighting in Syria will get worse, the refugee camps will continue to be attacked, and there will be more displacement and more refugees. Thus, what is urgently needed in the short term is:

● More international support for UNRWA;
● A change in the mission of the UNHCR allowing it to extend protection to Palestinian refugees both inside and outside Syria; and
● International pressure on Lebanon to abolish its entry and residence taxes on Palestinian refugees, allowing them to work. Indeed, Lebanon’s discrimination against Palestinian refugees from Syria draws attention to its own long history of refusing equal employment opportunities as well as property ownership to Palestinians who [have] sought refuge there since 1947-48. UNHCR should be equipped to contest this policy since it amounts to a system of post-facto refoulement.

It is also important that whatever regime is established in Syria at the end of the civil war should be pressed to allow all refugees to return to their former homes and all camps to be reconstructed. In addition, there is a need to counter U.S.-based campaigns to re-define the Palestinian refugee and terminate UNRWA by raising American awareness of the Nakba of 1948, a task that requires energetic public education through the media, university outreach, coalition-building and civic society organization.

Last but not least, international pressure should be brought to bear on Israel to cease blocking the settlement of Palestinian refugees from Syria in the occupied Palestinian territory by setting conditions that would strip them of their right of return, and to enable their return with immediate effect. Further, this must be seen as a first step toward the long overdue return of Palestinian refugees and exiles to their homes as part of a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This commentary is based on a lecture delivered at the Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry on March 15, 2013.


1 A general source for this article was UNRWA’s weekly “Syria crisis situation update”
2 Author interviews.
3 Ilan Pappe (1988), Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1948-1951. London: Macmillan.
4 Sent from Abu Mujahed’s email network, March 17, 2013.

Notes and Links

* Refoulement

Refoulement means the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees. The principle of non-refoulement has first been laid out in 1954 in the UN-Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which, in Article 33(1) provides that:

“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.”

It is important to note, that the principle of non-refoulement does not only forbid the expulsion of refugees to their country of origin but to any country in which they might be subject to persecution. The only possible exception provided for by the UN Convention is the case that the person to be expelled constitutes a danger to national security (Art 33(2)).1

Although the principle of non-refoulement is universally accepted, problems with refoulement frequently arise through the fact, that its application requires a recognised refugee status. However, not all countries are members to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or may not have established formal procedures for determining refugee status.
1Note on Non-Refoulement (Submitted by the High Commissioner on Human Rights), (EC/SCP/2), 23rd August 1977

Displaced again: Palestinian refugees flee Syria war for Lebanon, Global Post, May 2013
Palestinians fleeing Syria denied help in Lebanon, Electronic Intifada, September 2012.
Displaced again: Palestinian refugees flee Syria war for Lebanon, Global Post, May 2013
Palestinian refugees, UNRWA

UN to blame for keeping Palestinians as refugees
Palestinian refugee problem solved at a vote, US senators attack UNRWA

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