Last updated on: 5/14/2008 | Author:

Who Are the Palestinian Refugees?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)


This site was archived on Aug. 3, 2021. The two-state solution is no longer the most popular solution among the jurisdictions involved. A reconsideration of the topic is possible in the future.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided the following definition of the term “refugee” on its website (accessed Nov. 2003):

“Under UNRWA’s operational definition, Palestine refugees are persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. UNRWA’s services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. UNRWA’s definition of a refugee also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948.”

Nov. 2003

The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), in an Apr. 9, 1951 study titled “Definition of a ‘Refugee’ Under Paragraph 11 of the General Assembly Resolution of 11 December 1948,” defined the term “refugee” according to the following constituent factors:

A. Citizenship

“The chief factor in the determination of the concept of a refugee in the proper sense of the term is citizenship, as opposed to domicile or residence, which enter into consideration in the case of stateless persons. Thus a refugee is a person who has left the territory of a country of which he was a citizen at the time of his departure. But such departure must have taken place as a consequence of physical or moral compulsion. Strictly speaking, persons who leave their country for reasons of personal convenience cannot be considered as refugees.”

B. Ethnical Origin

“A second factor to be taken into consideration in the definition of a refugee concerns the race, religion or political opinions of a person who is obliged to leave his country of origin. Persons falling into the various categories of refugees who have been placed under the protection of the League of Nations and of the United Nations can all be classed as refugees by reason either of their race or religion or of their political opinions. The General Clause 5 relating to the protection of refugees by a United Nations High Commissioner expressly provides for this. As regards refugees from Palestine in particular, they were obliged to leave their homes because they were of Arab origin. This fact is not questioned.”

C. Ancillary Factors: Domicile, Settlement, Residence

“The definitions given in the Arrangements of 12 May 1926 and 30 June 1928 only take into account ethnical origin without requiring the settlement of the persons concerned in the territory of the country which they left. The Provisional Arrangement of 4 July 1936 relating to refugees from Germany defines a refugee as a person who was settled in that country. This concept of settlement was dropped by the Convention of 10 February 1938 relating to those refugees. It was revived for the exclusive benefit of stateless persons, in lieu of citizenship. The same solution was provided for by the aforementioned General Clause.”

D. Persons Assimilated to Refugees

“There are two other categories of persons who, although not refugees in the technical sense of the term, should be assimilated to them. Their rights, property and interests are identical with those of the refugees. The first category consists of persons of Arab origin and of Palestinian citizenship who left Palestine before 29 November 1947 and who had not acquired any other citizenship prior to that date. To this category must be added that of persons of Arab origin who left Palestine before 6 August 1925 and who opted for Palestinian citizenship in accordance with the provisions of the Palestine Citizenship Order referred to above. In effect, in the majority of cases those belonging to the second category are identical with those in the first. According to the Palestine Citizenship Order they were obliged to state, among other things, their intention to reside in Palestine. However, it can well be imagined that this intention was unrealizable for valid reasons. It is certain that vis-à-vis the State of Israel these two categories are considered as a single group, whatever the date of departure from Palestine. There would appear to be good grounds for applying to them the provisions of the resolution of 11 December 1948 and thus furnishing them with protection which they would not otherwise enjoy.”

Apr. 9, 1951