Six million Palestinians are refugees

In small park BIG RUN 2022 we want to highlight the fact that so many Palestinians are refugees. Since 1948 the number of Palestinian refugees has now grown eightfold to an estimated six million. Not just those families and their descendants still looking to return to their homes that were stolen during the 1947-49 war (over 70 years of being refugees) but also those people displaced or forced to leave Palestine or their home in Israel since then. This is often called the ‘ongoing Nakba‘.

Palestinians in 1948, five months after the creation of Israel, leaving a village in the Galilee [Reuters]
Many families hold keys to their homes and this has become a symbol of their right to return

In 1948, Palestinians saw their world shattered by the Nakba (Catastrophe). An estimated 750 000 people were made refugees – fleeing violence or being expelled – during the war that followed the declaration of the State of Israel.

This was 80% of Palestinian Arab population of what became Israel. Meanwhile, those who stayed became internally displaced. In 1950, UNWRA estimated that 30% of the Palestinians who remained inside the borders of what became Israel were internally displaced.

UNWRA is a special unit of the UN and was created to support and “to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees”.

The groups of refugees

The UNWRA remit covers those who “lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict” (and had a normal place of residence in Palestine) or those people who are descendants of fathers who fulfil the definition. This is currently about 5 million people.

But there are others too –

  • those who were displaced in 1967 (about 1 million),
  • those who could have registered with UNWRA but never did (about 150000)
  • unknown number who have been displaced every day since the occupation in Israel’s continued campaign to subjugate and ethnically cleanse Palestine.

Where Palestinian refugees live today.

Click on the map to get an enlarged view

As you can see from the map (source: many refugees are living Palestine, in Gaza or the West Bank: they are descendants of those who were forced to flee during the Nakba.

Some three-quarters of the population in Gaza are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine. Gaza holds eight different Palestinian refugee camps, all established in 1948 and 1949, in the aftermath of the Arab-Israel War. The camps transformed over time from tent shelters to semi-permanent housing, but poverty, overcrowding and a total absence of urban planning, unemployment, a lack of school and public infrastructure make daily life challenging.

Others are distributed across the Arab world. And many, not shown in this map have gone to Europe, or the United States, Canada or South America – Chile has the highest population of Palestinians outside of the Middle East.

In many places, Palestinian refugees live in a limbo world without rights or status and frequently face discrimination, whether in the Lebanon or Jordan.

The situation is made worse as UNWRA, the agency from the UN officially in charge of looking after Palestinian refugees, is denied the required funding to run schools provide housing and health care.

a new ‘playground’ in a refugee camp in Jordan.

UNRWA is now entering its 72nd year of operation. The tents that once sheltered Palestinian refugees have in time been replaced with rudimentary concrete homes, with the strict land-lease requirements forcing the camp to grow up, not out.

The camps now resemble poor, densely overpopulated cities; a maze of concrete homes to generations of families where play space is at a premium.