In the safety of his sister’s bare flat in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, 42 year-old Iyad Yusef still shakes his head in disbelief when he recounts the journey that from war-torn Syria, brought him and his family to the relative safety of the blockaded strip.
It was the year 2012 and by December, close to half a million Syrians had fled the country. But for stateless Palestinian refugees who had lived in Syria since the 1948 war with Israel, leaving was becoming harder every day.
By April 2012, as disclosed by Human Rights Watch, Jordan was detaining Palestinian refugees from Syria in a facility on the border. Egypt was enforcing a transit only policy. Lebanon was beginning to tighten measures that resulted in a full ban on Palestinians in 2015 and in some cases in forced deportations back to Syria.
And in Turkey, where the UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) set up in 1948 for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has no operations, Palestinians were reportedly excluded from UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ services, despite an article in the 1951 Convention on Refugees guaranteeing their protection in special cases.
As the Palestinian policy network Al Shabaka stresses, since 1948 Arab and neighbouring states have explained their unwillingness to absorb Palestinians as a way to protect their right of return and not absolve Israel of its duties. This status quo though, the think-tank concludes, has resulted in heavily discriminatory policies which have left stateless Palestinians in legal limbo.