Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants do not come under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but under the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which created its own criteria for refugee classification. As such they are the only refugee population legally defined to include descendants of refugees, as well as others who might otherwise be considered internally displaced persons.This is how the number of Palestinian Arab "refugees" has ballooned from 700,000 in 1948 to nearly three million today.
Even though this is an arbitrary definition of "refugee," one where Palestinian Arabs are the only exception worldwide, it is almost universally accepted.
The New York Times published an article last week about the plight of Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon, but even the NYT with its celebrated attention to detail and nomenclature cannot seem to figure out whether they are "refugees" or not:
BEIRUT, Lebanon, May 5 — Three generations of the Hamdallah family have lived in Lebanon. And for three generations not a single member of the family has been allowed to graduate from school, legally marry, or hold a job, or even set foot outside of the rundown camps that have been home to generations of Palestinians.The first mention of "refugees, their children and their children’s children" implies, correctly, that children of refugees are not refugees. But the entire rest of the article uses the word "refugees" as synonymous with "Palestinians" to the absurd point of saying that Lebanon wants these people to "go back" to a land that the vast majority of them have never lived in.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates that more than 400,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon — refugees, their children and their children’s children — all denied many basic rights in their adopted homeland on the Mediterranean.
But within that diaspora at least 3,000 people, including the Hamdallah family, are invisible to the legal system, aid groups here say. When their families arrived in Lebanon, they failed to get refugee status, and without it they cannot get identification cards, the currency of all life transactions in this region. Marriage, travel, work — all are impossible without a national identification document.
“They are not persons in front of the law,” said Stéphane Jacquemet, regional representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon. “They live in camps, don’t have access to services, schools, hospitals, and strictly speaking a person with no documents can be arrested. They absolutely have no future, and they are giving their no future to their children.”
Palestinian refugees have been denied citizenship in Lebanon for years, and they are prohibited from practicing more than 70 professions. The Lebanese government has insisted that the plight of the refugees should not be settled at the expense of host nations, and it has made clear that it eventually wants the Palestinians to go back to Israel after a settlement with that government.
At the heart of that policy lies the fear that the refugees could upset Lebanon’s already complicated and tenuous power-sharing system, based on ethnic and sectarian affiliation. Because most Palestinians are Sunni Muslims, nationalizing them would throw the power balance to Sunnis.
So, with no real hope of becoming Lebanese citizens, Palestinians remain squeezed in dark, small camps where sewage water often runs in claustrophobic alleys, the only playground of young refugees. Outside most of these camps, the Lebanese Army maintains a heavy presence.
It is way past time to get the UN to close UNRWA, which is dedicated to a single problem which has expanded fourfold under its watch, and stop the ever-increasing problem of Palestinian Arabs who can never become citizens of most other Arab countries precisely because of this wrong definition. It is UNRWA who has done the most to perpetuate the problem it is supposed to solve, and the Arab countries are more than happy to use these bogus "refugees" as pawns while shielding themselves from criticism for not actually doing anything to make their lives easier.