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Watch: How the Civil War in Syria Has Made Palestinians 'Double' Refugees

20 September, 2016
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According to a report by the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Palestinian refugees form the world's largest and longest-running displacement of a people. In this seemingly endless situation, the renewed post-2011 turmoil can mean renewed refugee crises - to the point that a large number of Syrian-based Palestinians are being made refugees all over again.

British aid and campaigning organization Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) spoke to Palestinian women who fled to Lebanon from Syria in a revealing short film about how large portions of the Palestinian population have been uprooted due to the Syrian civil war. According to Badil, at least 64% of this population is now either internally displaced, or is seeking a home in surrounding countries or Europe.

Attempting to get your papers as a refugee is difficult enough. But without recognised citizenship, applicants are struggling with host country bureaucracies with no program for their settlement. While refugee settlement programs are offered in limited numbers by European governments to Syrians, Palestinians are excluded from this.

In the video, one woman describes how life in Syrian refugee camps was manageable, as Palestinians had integrated well into Syrian society. "We used to live in Yarmouk camp. We owned our house and were happy. We did not complain about anything."

Since 1948, Syria's Palestinian refugee population had grown from the initial estimated 90,000 people to being 3% of the country's population overall. In 1950, the Syrian government granted limited rights: while Palestinian refugees are refused the right to citizenship, voting, or land ownership, they are otherwise considered equal to Syrians in matters of trade, labour, and access to basic services like health and education. A generation of Syrian-born Palestinians have made a manageable existence out of this limbo. 

But in December 2012, Yarmouk, which is in Damascus, experienced devastating air strikes, and a siege began. Of the 160,000 Palestinians living there, only 18,000 now remain, receiving only very limited aid from the UNRWA. The majority have scattered, often splitting families for months or years at a time. Often, one parent attempts the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, while the rest of the family waits to join the parent trying to receive residency in Europe. 

"What happens to the Palestinians from Syria?" asks one woman, a former UNRWA worker, in the video. "Here in Lebanon, there are no residency permits, no work and movement is restricted." She goes on to explain that UNHCR are unable to register them in Lebanon because of their former registration with UNRWA in Syria.

The women speaking in the video have experienced a dramatic shift in their living conditions. "I am living in a damp flat, it doesn't get the sun, just one room," says one woman. "Two days ago the walls got electrified and I got an electric shock. I cut the power as the water is dripping through the wall."

"We are now asking for our right to emigrate, for our rights as human beings to be respected, especially Palestinians from Syria," says the former UNRWA worker.

Image: still from video

Tags MENA Because refugees refugee crisis Palestinians in Syria double refugees Lebanon UK Mediterranean migration Medical Aid for Palestinians MAP Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights CSR volunteering NGOs social enterprise