WASHINGTON — Palestinians are the largest stateless community worldwide, according to the United Nations, and when they become refugees, the way to resettlement is not a straightforward journey.
Refugees are a product of conflict. While the roots of the Israel-Gaza war trace back decades, the recent fighting flared on October 7 when Hamas militants attacked Israelis, killing 1,400 and abducting more than 200 back to the Gaza Strip. The U.S. designated Hamas a terror organization in 1997.
In response, Israel initiated bombings targeting Hamas in Gaza and urged residents to flee south, displacing more than 1.4 million people. As of Thursday, nearly 629,000 internally displaced people were sheltering in 150 U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) facilities.
In the three weeks since Hamas’ attack, only a limited supply of water, food and medical aid has entered Gaza because of an Israeli blockade on the Hamas-controlled territory.
Why is it so complex for Palestinians to leave?
There isn’t a specific refugee resettlement program for Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territories, according to human rights experts.
UNRWA provides social services, education, health care, shelter and some emergency aid to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.
But UNRWA does not have the authority to give Palestinians refugee status under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Nor does the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have that authority while they are in UNRWA’s area of operations; it can designate Palestinians as refugees only when they are outside UNRWA’s jurisdiction.
“The Refugee Convention was written such that it excluded [Palestinians] from protection and consideration by the UNHCR,” Yael Schacher, director for the Americas and Europe at Refugees International, told VOA.
Yet, Schacher said, places like the United States have resettled Palestinians.
“If a Palestinian leaves one of those [UNRWA] areas for someplace else, either by force or needs to leave … there’s been some legal decisions that have said that UNRWA is so underfunded and unable to provide for Palestinians, even in those areas, that they should be under the auspices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and be able to be given refugee status and be eligible for referral for resettlement,” she said.
Are there ways for Palestinians to leave?
It is not easy for Palestinians to travel outside the occupied territories — the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — to attend visa interviews at consulates of the countries to which they hope to travel.
If they wish to travel to or through Egypt, they must receive authorization from the Egyptian government, under strict guidelines. To travel to Israel, they must receive permits.
Human rights experts said a pass to leave Gaza through Israel is extremely difficult to obtain and usually requires the applicant to have a medical condition that cannot be treated in Gaza or have a connection with a foreign entity. Even then, the rate of acceptance is not high and can be delayed for a long time.
Travel through Egypt means a grueling journey across the Sinai Peninsula. But the biggest issue is the limited number of permits per day, which means waiting many months for a permit.
Departing by boat is rare and dangerous, according to human rights organizations.
Since the October 7 attack, the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been closed to Palestinians, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has reiterated his country’s stance against allowing resettlement of Palestinians from Gaza in the Sinai.
Source : VOA News