OVER a quarter of Syria’s Palestinian refugees displaced as a result of the long conflict are facing recurrent tragedies outside Syria, according to a new report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med) published on Wednesday.
The report, titled ‘Palestinian Syrians: Displaced Once Again. An eye on the appaling humanitarian conditions of Syria’s Palestinian refugees in exile,’ highlights the dire humanitarian conditions and the legal limbo Syria’s Palestinian refugees suffer from after being forcibly displaced as a result of the conflict breaking out. Out of 526,000 who used to reside in the country, 3,600 have been killed.
The new Euro-Med report reviews the shocking humanitarian conditions and the legal limbo of Syria’s Palestinian refugees and documents their difficult living circumstances in host countries as the seven-year conflict in Syria continues. The host communities include Europe and Turkey as well as neighbouring Arab countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories (Gaza).
Statistics by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) show that at least 120,000 Palestinian Syrians left their camps in the country and migrated either to neighbouring or to European countries.
Meanwhile, estimates available to Euro-Med Monitor indicate an even higher number, amounting to over 160,000. In Lebanon, the number of Palestinian refugees from Syria reached nearly 32,500 by the end of 2017, according to UNRWA estimates. About 90% of them live below the poverty line, and 95% suffer from food insecurity.
The Lebanese authorities continue to deny residence permits to Palestinian refugees from Syria in light of the lack of a legal status addressing their standing, leading to instability, insecurity and a constant fear of deportation due to restrictions on movement, said Euro-Med.
Syria’s Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have also complained that UNRWA’s financial aid – which is only a monthly $100 per family and $27 for food expenses per capita – can only cover a fraction of their living costs. UNRWA said that the deficit in funding is caused by donor countries’ failure to fulfill their duties towards refugees.
In Jordan, the number of Syria’s Palestinian refugees is estimated at 16,776, making up 4,047 families, 41% of whom are children. In 2013, the Jordanian Government declared a ban on Palestinians fleeing Syria”s conflict from entering its territory, forcibly deporting hundreds of them back to the war-torn country. While Jordan has been treating Palestinian refugees from Syria in an extremely biased manner, Jordan still opens its borders to Syrian refugees who have fled for the exact same reasons. Most of the refugees in Jordan rely on UNRWA’s financial and in-kind assistance, with about 80% receiving aid, and the scarcity and delay of many refugees has already furthered their crisis due to widespread unemployment and high cost of living.
In Turkey, the number of Palestinian refugees from Syria is currently estimated at 8,000, most of them in the southern Turkish provinces. They are living in a precarious situation due to difficulty entering the labour market, while the vast majority depends on assistance from various relief agencies. Palestinian Syrians had a Syrian-issued travel document which the Turkish Government does not recognise as sufficient to treat them the same way as other Syrian refugees.
In Egypt, Palestinians holding Syrian travel documents are subject to immense pressure by the Egyptian authorities. They are not treated on an equal footing with their Syrian peers, while UNRWA’s intervention to provide aid for them is met with denial from the authorities. Meanwhile, they cannot be registered as refugees at UNHCR because only UNRWA is commissioned to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees, unlike other refugees who are treated in compliance with the Refugees Convention.
A Palestinian refugee (his initials are H. B.) from Syria seeking refuge in Egypt said to the Euro-Med Monitor team that, ‘we have been facing difficulties in getting residence permits which has to be renewed every six months if one has a Palestinian passport. ‘Otherwise, a residence permit can be acquired via the UN Yellow Card. Meanwhile, renewal procedures are often obstructed by the authorities so that we pay fines for delay.’
In terms of education, the refugee further said: ‘We were first allowed to join public schools. But now, we cannot do so even for basic education. ‘Thus, we are only allowed to register our children in private school in which fees are expensive. In regards to universities, fees go from 5,500 to 7,000 dollars as international students.’
In Gaza, statistics by the Ministry of Social Affairs show that approximately 1,000 Palestinian refugees have fled Syria to the coastal enclave, making up nearly 130 families.Earlier in 2013, 220 families were registered. However, Gaza’s hardly endurable living conditions forced dozens of them to travel through Libya and Egypt to Europe.
The Palestinian refugees from Syria in the Gaza Strip have been suffering from poor economic and living conditions, a lack of employment opportunities, the high cost of house rent, and the 12-year-blockade imposed by the Israeli authorities on Gaza, especially following the 2014 summer attack that has resulted in irreparable destruction.
According to testimonies by Palestinian refugees from Syria in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA has not committed itself to providing regular assistance to them due to a lack of funding, while the PLO and official parties only provided very little short-term assistance.
Regarding government services, Abu Nahl said, ‘We only receive a small amount of money from the Ministry of Social Affairs every three months.
‘It is not enough to meet my family’s basic needs. We have not been granted health insurance to get treatment in government hospitals, therefore we are forced to pay in full or get simple treatment at an UNRWA clinic.’
In Europe, the living conditions of Palestinian-Syrian refugees are almost alike. In most of European countries, refugees receive housing and salaries for themselves and their families.
However, refugees are met with many challenges, including long waiting periods before they get their residence status, and delays in reunification with familie.
Concluding the report, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor called on UNRWA and UNHCR to carry out their duties towards Syria’s Palestinian refugees and to further integrate them into their programs. Euro-Med Monitor also called on host countries to put an end to the violations and pressures exerted on refugees, to open routes for them and to grant them refugee status instead of threatening them with deportation and movement restriction.
Euro-Med Monitor also called on these countries to ensure that these refugees’ adapt to the educational system, get equal career opportunities, and enjoy a stable legal status.
Euro-Med Monitor reiterated the need for European countries to work to reduce waiting periods for Palestinian refugees from Syria to obtain residency, and to provide safe ways for refugees to legally arrive in Europe.