Democratizing the Refugee Issue

Democratizing the Refugee Issue

Project Report – The Voices of the Refugees

April 2001

Note:  This report reflects the summary of the voices of the refugees heard and documented by IPCRI.  This report intends to present their opinions. The recommendations listed in the report are the recommendations of the refugees as summarized by the IPCRI Project Coordinators, Ms. Shireen al Araj, and Ms. Jihad Abu Zneid.

During 2000, IPCRI convened 48 Town-Hall Meetings in 9 different refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. In all, hundreds of refugees took part in some of the most intensive and comprehensive discussions concerning their future that have ever taken place. In March of 2001 a survey was conducted with 1600 respondents.  The results of the survey are presently being analyzed.  This report relates to the town meetings held in the refugee camps.

The participant refugees confronted a wide range of different subjects that they selected to place on the agenda. A list of subjects had already been defined by the project coordinators and workshop moderators in a meeting that was held in the Youth Union Center in Kalandia Camp / Suburbs of Ramallah. This list was presented in each refugee camp town meeting for the participants to finalize.

The focal topics of discussion were:

 Reality of Refugee Camps.

The United Nations Relief & Works Agency

     (UNRWA) and the Palestinian refugees.

Host Countries & the Refugees.

Peoples' Perspectives towards Negotiations.

International Resolutions on the Refugees' Issue.


The 20th century can be labeled as the era of refugees in the world. Influxes of millions of refugees were repeated on fairly frequent bases. People sought a refuge to escape suppression and tyranny either because of regional, national wars, or because of settlements, invasion and deportation of people from their homelands. The number of refugees, in this century, exceeded 50 million, where 5 million of them were / are Palestinians (according to today’s numbers, in 1948 they numbered under 1 million).

The past two decades in the 20th century have witnessed the return of millions of refugees in Africa, Middle Asia, North - South Asia; and lately the return of Kosovo refugees to their cities  & villages. They managed to go back to their homes as a result of international military intervention. Notwithstanding that the Palestinian refugee question is the oldest and the most delicate issue, it has not only remained without a solution, but also without any positive developments towards it. The Palestinian refugees stress that it is also worth noting that the Palestinian Refugees' Question has clear international UN resolutions that clearly call for the right of those refugees to return to their homes.

Its is, therefore, neither strange nor bizarre to realize that the refugees' issue has passed through a long thorny way of negotiations starting from the ratification Oslo agreement through Cairo agreement and ending with Wye River pact.  Needless to state those negotiators have agreed once again to transfer this heavy file to the final status negotiations.

Palestinians consider the refugee's issue as the key of the entire Palestinian question since it represents more then 80% of this nation. It ought to be noted that the Arab Israeli conflict had started long time before 1967.

Several resolutions had been issued by the UN Security Council, pertaining the Arab /Israeli conflict as 242 and 181 together with a series of consecutive resolutions that either supported the Palestinian cause or stressed the previously adopted resolutions.

Since the declaration of Oslo agreement in 1993, the Palestinian refugees have convened different meetings, workshops and conferences; as Al-Fara'a conference in 1995; Bethlehem Conference in 1997 and Gaza conference in 1997. In these meetings they stressed that there must be a just and comprehensive return for the Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194 i.e. to offer the refugees of 1948 the right to return to their land and property.

As a result of different proposals of the refugees issue; in light of the controversy that is prevalent here and there; and owing to the fact that there are various propositions for the refugee issue.

Since there are different proposals to solve the refugee question, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research & Information (IPCRI) in collaboration with the Union of the Social Centers in Palestine (The Union of the Social Centers in West Bank and The Union of the Social Services Centers in Gaza Strip) carried out a series of workshops in order to tackle prevalent matters of direct relevance to the refugee issue. The idea and rationale behind these “town meetings” was to provide the refugees themselves a greater say in determining their own future.  From previous projects on the refugee issue conducted by IPCRI, we noted that the majority of refugee felt a lack of efficacy in determining their future. Many refugees stated, in surveys conducted by IPCRI and by others, the feeling and fear that their “rights” would be “sold out” by the Palestinian negotiators.  In the past three years, much grass-roots organization has taken place in the refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza aimed at pre-empting attempts to resolve the refugee issue in ways that would not be viewed as satisfactory in their own eyes.  For that reason, IPCRI decided to conduct this project with the hope that by providing the refugees in the camps with an opportunity to discuss the relevant issues in depth they would also have the opportunity to present their preferences and priorities to their leaders and to the outside world in an organized and direct fashion.

Nine camps were chosen, five of them are in West Bank (Arroub, Kalandia, Ama're, Fara'a & Tulkarem Camps, Bethlehem area camps); and from Gaza strip; selection are mainly from central middle Camps (Maghazi, Jabalia & Khan Younis Camps).

Heterogeneous groups were chosen so as to have a clear and valid social make-up of the camps.

Findings & Recommendations (In the words of the participants):

Reality of Refugee Camps:

The tragic circumstances and conditions of the Palestinian camps stress the fact that the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) has taken part in an international conspiracy of settling the refugees in these camps. A number of indicators reflect this fact:

UNRWA moved its headquarters from Vienna to Gaza at the moment the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) came into power;

  • The Environment: