The Palestinian face of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

refugees_0The British public may be forgiven for assuming that all of the approx. 4 million refugees fleeing violence in Syria were Syrian, however there is also a sizeable Palestinian element to the refugee crisis. We, at the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, have boiled down how Palestinians are affected into numbers:

• Prior to the Syrian civil war there were already 560,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria.
• Whilst many are fleeing, 480,000 are choosing to remain in Syria
• The UN estimate 95% of those staying in Syria are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
• There are 12 camps in Syria for Palestinian Refugees and all of them have been affected.
• Prior to the Syria civil war 160,000 people lived in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, Yarmuk. However the UNRWA estimates there are 18,000 left alive in the camp.
• It’s estimated there are 120,000 Palestinians, who have already been uprooted once in their lives, looking for refuge again from outside of war torn Syria..
• Since the Syrian civil war 1.2million refugees have flooded into Lebanon.
• Of those 1.2million refugees in Lebanon, it is estimated that 450,000 are Palestinian.
• Refugees now make up 25% of Lebanon’s population.
Palestinian refugees make up 10% of Lebanon’s population.
• At one point, there were 10,000 refugees entering Lebanon every 24 hours. Many Palestinians, and others, are fleeing Lebanon too.

As effective as numbers may be at summarising the sheer scale of the crisis at a macro level, individual accounts give a less clinical outlook. Muhammed Hassan, a Palestinian who has found himself a refugee for the second time, for example, is now in Cyprus after fleeing Lebanon during the current humanitarian crisis. He tells USA Today that just because he is a Palestinian, seeking refuge in an Arab country is no longer an option for him.:

“To the Arab countries we are terrorists. If I make a tour of Arab countries and if I tell them I am Palestinian, and just because I’m Palestinian, they will ask me lots of questions, they will make me produce a lot of documents. Other nations are welcome. We get nothing from Arab countries, they just offer aid. We don’t want their money. We just want to live in dignity… I have suffered too much in my life and I don’t want that for my children as well.”

A Palestinian in a refugee camp in Cyprus. Credit: AFP /Samar Hazboun

A Palestinian in a refugee camp in Cyprus. Credit: AFP /Samar Hazboun

Prior to the civil war the condition of many Palestinian refugee camps in Syria or Lebanon were dreadful, but the conflict has only made matters worse. Mr Hassan went on to describe the Lebanese refugee camp he was living in before getting to Cyprus, saying he was forced to live amongst “dogs, cats, rats, corpses and garbage cans.”

Despite public opinion softening towards the asylum seekers, many across Europe and the Arab world have caused a negative stigma to those trying to escape the group commonly known as ISIS, and the Palestinians seem more effected by this than anyone. Another Palestinian refugee in Cyprus, who fled from the Syrian capital of Damascus, Yehya al-Shabi, says “There should be no difference in treatment between Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians.”

We, at the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, can’t help but feel that the logical and natural home for the Palestinians trying to escape the violence is Palestine. And Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, feels the same way. Earlier this week, Mr Abbas, called on Israel, who control Palestine’s borders, to allow them to take some of the Palestinian refugees escaping Syria and Lebanon. However Benjamin Netanyahu, who has spent this week visiting our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has refused to allow a single refugee, Palestinian or not, into Israel or the territory it controls.

An Israeli soldier guards  the Israeli-Egypt border fence as African would-be immigrants sit on the other side near. CREDIT: Reuters

An Israeli soldier guards the Israeli-Egypt border fence as African would-be immigrants sit on the other side near. CREDIT: Reuters

Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s opposition party, Zionist Union, has also called on Netanyahu to accept more refugees but Mr Netanyahu has decided to do the opposite and is putting effort into ensuring not one refugee can enter the country. Whilst many nations make increase their effort to accommodate those in need of asylum in the face of the heart-breaking crisis, Israel are instead building a security fence across its border with Jordan to further ensure that not a single refugee enters Israel or Palestine. The fence will eventually connect with those already built with over the Israel’s Egyptian and Golan Heights borders, completely isolating the state from its neighbours.

Mr Netanyahu said:

“Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa… [But] Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth. Therefore, we must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism.”

This shows a remarkable change in attitude from February this year, following the murder of a Jewish man outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, Benjamin Netanhyahu called on all European Jews to move to Israel, saying: “Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe,”

Netanyahu has gone from having room for every single European Jew, to saying there is no room for any Arab refugees.

The Liberal Democrat Friends Of Palestine feel a lot of countries, namely our own, are not doing enough to aid everyone effected by this awful humanitarian crisis. As internationalists, we feel that every country should do all they possibly can to help their fellow humans, regardless of what country they originally come from. Most of us are lucky enough to have never been a refugee once in our lifetime. We cannot comprehend what it must be like to be a refugee twice.

Whilst we accept Israel is a relatively small nation in size, it could do a lot more. It should do a lot more. Israel, as a nation whose actions have made refugees of many Palestinians once, ought to do its part to help them as they have become refugees for a second time. Just like it offered to for the Jewish population of Europe, fearing anti-semitic attacks. We cannot imagine a gesture that would help improve relations between the two nations more than Israel accepting displaced Palestinians in their hour of need.

All statistics sourced from the United Nations