The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), in partnership with the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) lead a delegation comprising of British MPs and EU MEPs to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The delegation arrived to Lebanon on Sunday the 6th Feb 2011 visited refugee camps and met senior officials.
Led by Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, the delegation included, Michael Connarty MP,Jeremy Corbyn MP, Frank Engel MEP, Robert Goebbels MEP, Nicolette Petersen (office of Jeremy Corbyn MP), Alexandra Thein MEP and Derek Vaughan MEP. General Director of PRC, Majed Al Zeer and chair of CEPR, Dr Arafat Shoukri.
For over 60 years, millions of Palestinians have been living as refugees in areas of the occupied Palestinian territories and in surrounding countries. The UN Refugee Agency describes their plight as “by far the mostprotracted and largest of all refugee problems in the world today”(1)
Three quarters of Palestinians from a global population of 11 million are refugees.Their plight is at the coreof the Israel Palestinian conflict. All other issues, political and humanitarian, arose as a consequence of Israel’s denial of the right of refugees to return to their land.
Multiple international treaties and conventions recognise the inviolable characteristic of the right to return including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all PRForms of Racial Discrimination and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The Right of Return for refugees is guaranteed under Humanitarian and Human Rights Law and countless UN resolutions.
Uniquely to the Palestinians, the UN has affirmed the right of return through Resolution 194 on 122 occasions. The UN also, after recognising the growing humanitarian disaster as Palestinians were expelled from their land in 1948, set up two different institutions to deal with the humanitarian challenges and implement the right of return. Six decades on, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) remains the sole provision.
Despite these facts, in the West little is heard of the refugees, who have been relegated to ‘final status negotiations(’) during the Middle East peace process. The ‘Palestine Papers’ released by al-Jazeera in 2011 revealed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to virtually give up the right of return, save for the symbolic return of 10,000 refugees. Israel rejected this offer on the grounds that it did not satisfy their demands.
Palestinians from the North of Palestine, namely Haifa, Safad and the Galilee were forced from their homes due to Israeli attacks and ethnic cleansing in 1948. Around 100,000 fled to Lebanon, approximately 14 percent of the total number who became refugees that year. Initially Palestinian refugees fared relatively well in Lebanon, but their position weakened dramatically by the 1960s when Israeli refusal to accept the right of return and Lebanese sectarianism and fear of Tawtin began to take hold. Since then multiple civil wars, Lebanon’s fragile geopolitical position and the failure of the Lebanese and Palestinian leaderships to enshrine Palestine rights in Lebanese law have combined to leave the Palestinian refugees in a precarious position that has seen little improvement.