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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan discriminating against Syria refugees of Palestinian descent

Al Ahram reports:
Dozens of Palestinians refugees fleeing violence in Syria protested at the Palestinian embassy in Cairo, demanding better treatment from Palestinian and Egyptian authorities.

Gathering under a banner reading “don’t kill us twice,” Palestinian refugees began their open ended sit-in before the Palestinian embassy in Egypt on Tuesday morning, demanding to be recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Children held signs spelling out the slogan while protestors broke out in various chants, including "down with the Ambassador." In the afternoon, protestors said they were threatened by police, who told them that “thugs” in the neighbourhood might attack them. Embassy bodyguards also secured the perimeters.

Frustrated over being denied refugee status by UNCHR, protestors, who previously lived in refugee camps in Syria, say that they should be given the same rights as Syrian refugees in Egypt.

“They [protestors] cannot register themselves as refugees. They can't put their children in schools. They’re not given healthcare nor do they have any kind of humanitarian services,” Hanine Hassan, organiser and Palestinian human rights activist said at the sit-in.

UNHCR cannot register the refugees because the Egyptian government does not officially recognise them as such. The agency refused to comment, saying that the matter lies entirely with Egyptian authorities.
Egypt is not one of the states that UNRWA works in, which means that the refugees from Syria who are ostensibly "Palestinian" have no agency that can help them.

But UNRWA's existence is not making Syria refugees of PalArab descent any more comfortable in Lebanon:
Palestinian refugees who have fled violence in Syria held their weekly sit-in outside UNRWA office in the Beddawi Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon, demanding the U.N. agency to do more.

With the tragic living conditions of Palestinians continuing to deteriorate in the camp, the protesters entered the UNRWA offices and disrupted work for two hours.

Representatives of the popular committees and institutions took part in the protest and demanded the U.N. carry out its duty in aiding the refugees, and devise an emergency plan aimed at providing temporary shelter or offer them allowances for rent.

The protesters also demanded health care coverage and the enrollment of Palestinians children in UNRWA-run schools and help college students.

UNRWA has said that more than 40,000 Palestinians from Syria had registered with the agency while activists estimate some 10,000 had not approached UNRWA.

Most of the refugees, who fled after the Yarmuk Refugee Camp in Syria was bombarded last year, are currently living in or near one of the country’s already overcrowded 12 refugee camps.

They warned they would take escalatory measures by threatening to enter the office of the UNRWA head, and forcefully turn schools and U.N. institutions into temporary shelters if UNRWA fails to meet their demands, primarily rent allowance.
Jordan also singles out Palestinian Arabs from Syria for "special" treatment:
Faced with surging numbers of shell-shocked Syrian refugees, Jordanian forces have begun turning Palestinian families away at the border, forcing them to return to a country ravaged by a ruthless dictator and to a civil war with no end in sight.

In a facility known as Cyber City near the border city of Ramtha in Jordan, 200 Palestinian families await their fate. Many of them have already been turned away from the neighboring Zaatari camp, which has stopped accepting anyone without Syrian identification. Anyone with a Palestinian ID is automatically directed to Cyber City, where they are detained until approved for asylum status. Eyewitnesses say the facility looks like a worn-down, six-story dormitory, its occupants forbidden from stepping outside its walls for any length of time.

At Salon, Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch and Meera Shah at Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic describe the camp's deplorable conditions. In some cases, four families are squashed into one room -- and those are the families that have managed to stay together. The authors spoke with a Syrian refugee who recounted what the Jordanian authorities told him as he approached the border with his family:

"You can come, but she is not allowed because she's Palestinian." I told them our house is burned down and that we have no house to go back to. The Border Patrol officer said, 'That is not our problem.' I begged him. My wife and children were begging and crying not to be sent back. He said, 'It is impossible,' and put us in a military vehicle and took us to the border."

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, close to 4,569 Palestinians from Syria have managed to enter Jordan since the conflict in Syria began. But the number that have been turned away at the border is estimated to be significantly larger. However distressing, the government of Jordan has made no secret of its harsh policy of refusal. In October, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced the plan in the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, "Jordan has made a clear and explicit sovereign decision to not allow the crossing to Jordan by our Palestinian brothers who hold Syrian documents."

The common denominator is that a decision made some six decades ago to treat Palestinian Arab refugees differently from every other refugee in the world has repercussions, today. Two UN agencies, with differing goals, differing definitions, differing rules, different mandates and different budgets being played against each other and the entire Arab world happily discriminating against one type of refugee - all because they want to ensure that Palestinian Arabs remain miserable and stateless.