August 7, 2014

VI. Shrinking Space: Regional Push Backs of Palestinians from Syria

Jordan is not the only country in the region that denies safe haven to Palestinians fleeing the violence in Syria or restricts their entry. According to the March 2014 SNAP report:

In 2013, [Palestinians from Syria] faced increasingly targeted restrictions in seeking entry and asylum, as well as escalating hostility in host countries and communities, particularly in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. This has caused many [Palestinians from Syria] to take greater risk in reaching Europe via land and sea routes with smugglers.[88]

Though Iraq has placed no formal restrictions on Palestinian entry per se, in practice Iraqi authorities have blocked entry to virtually all asylum seekers attempting to enter through central Iraq’s border crossings with Syria since October 2012.[89] According to SNAP, there are no official figures for the number of Palestinians who have entered Iraq from Syria, but that “[t]here are likely … Palestinians who had sought refuge in Syria between 2006 and 2008 who have now returned to Iraq due to the escalation of the Syrian conflict.”[90]

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, of the 70,000 Palestinians estimated to have fled Syria at least 53,000 sought refuge in Lebanon.[91] Though the Lebanese government did not announce any formal restrictions on Palestinians entering Lebanon from Syria until May 2014, it barred entry to some Palestinians beginning in August 2013.[92] Furthermore Lebanon has long subjected Palestinians to a separate and more restrictive visa policy than that applied to Syrians.[93] On May 8, however, the Lebanese Ministry of Interior announced that authorities would stop issuing visas to Palestinians at the border, with some specific exceptions, and that instead Palestinians from Syria would need to apply in advance for a visa to enter the country.[94] The announcement did not say whether authorities would apply conditions or restrictions to visa requests by Palestinians. Under the new policy the Ministry also announced that Palestinians from Syria in Lebanon would no longer be able to renew or extend visas that had previously been obtained automatically at the border

On May 4, the Lebanese government forcibly returned about three dozen Palestinians to Syria via the Masnaa border crossing. The decision to deport the men followed their arrest at Beirut airport on May 3 for allegedly attempting to leave the country using fraudulent visas. [95]

Of Syria’s neighbors, only Turkey allows Palestinians to freely enter and has reportedly agreed to issue residency permits that will allow them to live, work, and study legally in the country.[96] By April 2014 at least 1,600 Palestinians had entered Turkey and registered with UNHCR.[97]

Due to regional pushbacks and inability to legally reside in most surrounding countries, many Palestinians from Syria are taking risks to escape the violence, including by attempting to smuggle themselves to Europe by land or sea.

In Egypt, where an estimated 6,000 Palestinians from Syria have sought refuge, Palestinians and Syrians must acquire a pre-approved visa to enter the country.[98] By late 2013 the government had detained at least 400 Palestinians from Syria caught trying to migrate to Europe on smugglers’ boats. Palestinians interviewed by Human Rights Watch at police stations said that Egyptian authorities told them that their only alternative to indefinite detention in Egypt was to go to Lebanon or return to war-torn Syria.[99] Palestinians in Egypt are especially vulnerable because Egyptian policy prevents them from seeking protection from UNHCR, and Egypt is outside UNRWA’s fields of operation.[100]

The wife of one Palestinian man whom Jordanian authorities deported back to Syria in 2013 told Human Rights Watch he had later managed to smuggle himself to Europe via Turkey for a fee of 7,000 Euros ($9,525), but that he had injured his back while traveling a mountain route.[101]

Neighboring countries must respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to seek safety and asylum outside Syria as long as they face insecurity and persecution there. The burden of providing safety and asylum should not fall solely on neighboring countries (Jordan and Lebanon being the preferred countries of flight for the Palestinians), but should be shared by countries in the region and beyond. Israel too should not wait for a resolution of the broader Palestinian refugee issue but instead permit Palestinian refugees from Syria to return to areas now administered by Palestinian authorities.

Other countries outside the region should also participate in sharing the burden: they should provide financial assistance to countries that take Palestinian refugees from Syria and consider accepting vulnerable Palestinian refugees for temporary humanitarian resettlement without prejudice to their right of return.

The PLO and the Arab League have rejected in principle and actively discouraged in practice local integration or third-country resettlement of Palestinian refugees. Their view is that local integration or resettlement would negate the right to return of the resettled refugees.[102] While states might be reluctant to offer third-country resettlement because of the PLO and Arab League position against it, the dire situation of Palestinians fleeing Syria cannot be ignored. One avenue would be to model third-country Palestinian resettlement of Syrian Palestinians on the Kosovar Humanitarian Evacuation Program in which resettlement offers were provided on a temporary basis rather than as a durable solution.[103] Under such an arrangement, Palestinian refugees would not have to forfeit their right of return by accepting an offer of temporary resettlement.

[88] Syria Needs Analysis Project, “Palestinians from Syria,” March 2014, March 2014, http://www.acaps.org/reports/downloader/palestinians_from_syria_march_2014/77/syria (accessed May 17, 2014).

[89] “Iraq/Jordan/Turkey: Syrians Blocked from Fleeing War,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 1, 2013, http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/01/iraqjordanturkey-syrians-blocked-fleeing-war.

[90] Syria Needs Analysis Project, “Palestinians from Syria,” March 2014, March 2014, http://www.acaps.org/reports/downloader/palestinians_from_syria_march_2014/77/syria (accessed May 17, 2014).

[91] Ibid.

[92] “Lebanon: Palestinians Fleeing Syria Denied Entry,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 8, 2013, http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/08/07/lebanon-palestinians-fleeing-syria-denied-entry.

[93] United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), “PRS in Lebanon,” http://www.unrwa.org/prs-lebanon (accessed May 17, 2014).

[95] “Lebanon: Palestinians Barred, Sent to Syria,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 6, 2014, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/05/lebanon-palestinians-barred-sent-syria.

[96] “Turkey offers residency to Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria,” al-Akhbar English, February 19, 2014,

http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/18704 (accessed May 15, 2014).

[97] Syria Needs Analysis Project, “Palestinians from Syria,” March 2014, March 2014, http://www.acaps.org/reports/downloader/palestinians_from_syria_march_2014/77/syria (accessed May 17, 2014).

[98] United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), “Syria Crisis Response Update (Issue No. 73),” April 7, 2014, http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/emergency-reports/syria-crisis-response-update-issue-no-73 (accessed May 17, 2014). “Egypt: Syria Refugees Detained, Coerced to Return,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 11, 2o13, http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/10/egypt-syria-refugees-detained-coerced-return.

[99] “Egypt: Syria Refugees Detained, Coerced to Return,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 11, 2o13, http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/10/egypt-syria-refugees-detained-coerced-return.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with Basma, Amman, April 28, 2014.

[102] See Susan Akram, “Palestinian Refugees and Their Legal Status: Rights, Politics, and Implications for a Just Solution,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3,Spring 2002, pp. 36-51, http://www.palestine-studies.org/files/Special%20Focus/World%20Refugee%20Day/Palestinian%20Refugees.pdf (accessed July 15, 2014).

[103] Bill Frelick, “Humanitarian Evacuation from Kosovo: A Model for the Future?” World Refugee Survey – 2000, available at http://m.reliefweb.int/report/65648 (accessed July 1, 2014).