On Monday, to commemorate World Refugee Day, Al Jazeera published a report on the status of refugees around the world. With the help of the United Nations, Al Jazeera juggled the statistics, making it appear that there are currently 5.8 million Palestinian refugees around the world today. The true number is actually less than 30,000.
Al Jazeera cited a report from the UNHCR which claims that there are currently 100 million refugees in the world. The UNHCR report claimed that this was more than double the 42.7 million people who remained forcibly displaced a decade ago and the most since World War II. This dramatic increase was blamed on the war on Ukraine.
The plight of Palestinian refugees is the longest unresolved refugee problem in the world.
According to @Refugees, by 1952 the number of expelled Palestinian refugees was 867,000. Today, that figure is 5.8 million.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) June 20, 2022
Though the initial UN report does not cite countries of origin, Al Jazeera specifies that of this number, 5.8 million of these refugees are “Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate”.
“The plight of Palestinian refugees is the longest unresolved refugee problem in the world,” Al Jazeera wrote. “On May 14, 1948, the British Mandate for Palestine expired, triggering the first Arab-Israeli war. Zionist militias expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians.”
“According to figures compiled by UNHCR, by 1952 the number of Palestinian refugees was 867,000. Today, that figure is 5.8 million.”
That number is taken from a separate UN document listing countries of origin for refugees. Other UN reports on refugees explicitly exclude Palestinians for unexplained reasons.
Neither Al Jazeera nor the UN cited the more than 850,000 Jews who either fled persecution or were expelled from Arab countries after the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Al Jazeera’s report is extremely dishonest. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in 1950 to aid and protect refugees which it defines as, “people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.”
This definition does not include the descendants of refugees. Palestinian refugees living in the regions covered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) are not under the care of UNHCR. Part of the reason for this is that the UN definition of a Palestinian refugee differs significantly from that of the UNHCR.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949 solely to “support the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees.” At the time of its establishment, UNRWA defined a Palestinian refugee as “persons whose regular place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” This was later amended to include the 1967 refugees. Even later, this was amended to include the descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children.
Palestinians are the only nationality for which the status of refugee is ancestral. It is important to note that the UNHCR definition states that if a person fleeing persecution has acquired citizenship or the rights of citizenship in a country in which they have sought refuge, he or she would not be eligible to receive refugee status. Under the UNHCR definition, almost all of the people served by UNRWA would lose their refugee status.
If the statistic cited by the UN and Al Jazeera of 750,000 Palestinian refugees in 1947 is accurate, the youngest of these refugees would be 75 years old today.. In 2018, a State Department report disclosed by the Washington Free Beacon recorded that around 20,000 of the original refugees are still alive today. If the UNHCR definition were applied universally, the claim that there are currently 5.8 million Palestinian refugees is 193 times too high.
It should be noted that the last census taken by the British in 1945 found approximately 1.2 million permanent Arab residents in all of Palestine. A 1949 census conducted by the government of Israel counted 160,000 Arabs living in the new state after the war. In 1947, a total of 809,100 Arabs lived in the same area. This meant no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. A report by the UN Mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower refugee figure—472,000.
Due to this multi-generational addendum, UNRWA has created a situation in which the conflict between the Jews and Palestinians will be perpetuated indefinitely and actually increase with time as new generations are born. This clause is also problematic as the Palestinian Authority has demanded that the right of return be a non-negotiable pre-condition to negotiations with Israel. An influx of 5.7 million Arabs would present an existential demographic threat to Israel as the Jewish state. It is precisely this UNRWA definition of refugee status that has proven to be one of the insurmountable obstacles to a peace agreement.
It was this untenable definition that led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 to call for the UNHCR to take over the mandate of the “Palestinian refugees” from UNRWA. Eight months later, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it was completely defunding UNRWA. One of the reasons given was that as the number of “refugees” being served by UNRWA increased geometrically, funding for the organization also increased at an ever-increasing rate.