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Common analysis
Last updated: September 2020

COI summary

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 11]

As of January 2018, 552 000 Palestinians were registered with UNRWA in Syria, of whom an estimated 438 000 remained in Syria.

85 % of Palestinian refugees in Syria are those that fled to the country in or before 1956 and their descendants. They have the same rights as Syrian citizens in terms of residence, freedom of movement, work, trade and access to civil service positions and public services. However, they do not have the right to vote, hold public office, own agricultural land or more than one house per person. Those who fled in 1948 are required to perform compulsory military service in the Palestinian Liberation Army, a Palestinian unit within the Syrian Armed Forces. Palestinians who fled to Syria after 1956 and their descendants were registered with UNRWA in other countries or the occupied Palestinian Territories and are treated as Arab foreigners. They have a 10-year renewable residence permit, and have to apply for a work permit, without having the right to work in the public sector. They have free access to public health and education [Targeting, 11.1].

UNRWA provides services in nine official and three unofficial Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Operations in Syria include mainly cash and food assistance, education and healthcare services. UNRWA does not administer or police the refugee camps, as this is the responsibility of the GoS. While UNRWA has continued to deliver cash assistance, and provide education and healthcare services in most camps in Syria throughout the conflict, in November 2019 the organisation stated that it ‘continues to face a financial crisis that is affecting its ability to deliver essential services, including humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria’. Only 27.3 % of the 2019 financial requirements for Syria were covered, which has resulted in the agency scaling down its operations, especially with regard to providing cash assistance, livelihood, and mental health and psychosocial services [Targeting, 11.2].

Since the outbreak of hostilities, a number of Palestinian organisations and individuals came to support different parties to the conflict. Palestinian refugee camps have been affected by hostilities and conflict-related displacement, albeit to varying degrees. Around 60 % of Palestinians were displaced at least once since the onset of the conflict. According to UNOCHA, Palestinian refugees in Syria were still vulnerable to displacement, loss of property and the destruction of their neighbourhoods in 2019. More than 180 000 were estimated to have had their homes severely damaged or destroyed, as was the case with Yarmouk, Dar’a and Ein el Tal camps that were hosting 30 % of the Palestinian population [Targeting, 11.2]. Yarmouk camp in Damascus, which housed almost 160 000 UNRWA-registered Palestinians refugees prior to the conflict, was the scene of heavy fighting and siege during the conflict. In 2019, all of UNRWA’s buildings in Yarmouk camp remained damaged and between 40 % and 60 % of the camp were completely destroyed [Targeting, 11.2; Recaptured areas,].

Various organisations report abductions, arrests and detention of Palestinian refugees (including women, girls, returnees and individuals who had signed reconciliation agreements) by the GoS forces, as well as torture of Palestinians in government prisons, often for unknown reasons [Targeting, 11.3].

As of June 2019, a total of 1 300 Palestinian refugees have returned from Lebanon and Jordan. Palestinian refugees face legal and socio-economic obstacles to returning, as well as entry restrictions, notably in Yarmouk area where former residents are not allowed to rebuild or settle [Targeting, 11.4].

Article 12(1)(a) QD [Article 1D Geneva Convention] analysis

Article 1D of the 1951 Geneva Convention states that

‘the Convention shall not apply to persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection or assistance. When such protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the position of such persons being definitively settled in accordance with the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, these persons shall ipso facto be entitled to the benefits of this Convention’.

The provisions of Article 1D are reflected in Article 12(1)(a) QD, which applies to Palestinian refugees who have actually availed themselves of UNRWA protection or assistance. Where such protection or assistance has ceased for a reason beyond the applicant’s control and independent of his volition, forcing him or her to leave the UNRWA area of operation or preventing him to re-avail himself of such protection or assistance, the applicant should be granted refugee status automatically.[23]

In general, UNRWA protection or assistance is not available to Palestinian refugees in Syria at a level which would guarantee that the ‘living conditions in that area will be commensurate with the mission entrusted to that agency’.[24] Moreover, there can be practical, legal and safety barriers as well as security threats preventing Palestinians refugees from accessing the UNRWA areas of operation in Syria, and thus from re-availing themselves of its protection or assistance.

Based on this, it is found that the protection or assistance from UNRWA in all of Syria can be considered to have ceased in the meaning of Article 12(1)(a) QD. Therefore, Palestinians who previously had availed themselves of the protection or assistance of UNRWA in Syria are to be granted ipso facto refugee status.

For Palestinians who have not availed themselves of UNRWA protection or assistance in Syria, the assessment should proceed with risk analysis and analysis of nexus to a reason for persecution.

Risk analysis (for those outside the scope of Article 1D of the Geneva Convention)

The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. militia violence, illegal detention, abduction, torture, killing, disappearance). When the acts in question are (solely) discriminatory measures, the individual assessment of whether or not discrimination could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: area of habitual residence, identity documents, (perceived) involvement with a party in the conflict, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution (for those outside the scope of Article 1D of the Geneva Convention)

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is for reasons of (imputed) political opinion and/or nationality (statelessness).


[23] CJEU, Bolbol v Bevándorlási és Állampolgársági Hivatal, C-31/09, judgment of 17 June 2010; CJEU, Mostafa Abed El Karem El Kott and Others v Bevándorlási és Állampolgársági Hivatal, C-364/11, judgment of 19 December 2012 (El Kott); [back to text]
[24] CJEU, El Kott, paras. 63-65 and ruling. [back to text]