The Palestinian refugees’ problem arose from a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing and elimination, the results of which are apparent in the Palestinian refugee camps and in the Palestinian diaspora (exile). Zionist policy sought to create an exclusive homeland for Jews in Palestine, a region that already had an indigenous population with a history stretching back thousands of years. The characterization of Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land” was a myth created to suggest that Palestine was waiting to be populated. Nothing was further from the truth and this has been evidenced by the atrocities of 1948 and since.
In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were forced out or fled from their homes to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The United Nations quickly set up an agency to register and shelter these refugees, and by 1950, a total of 914,000 were registered. Today the estimated number of Palestinian refugees registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – known as UNRWA – is around 5.1 million, with another 3.5 million unregistered. UNRWA is by far the largest UN agency, employing more than 25,000 people. Jordan is host to the largest Palestinian refugee population – almost 1.8 million.
The majority of Palestinian refugees live not far from their homes of origin either in their own homeland or in neighboring countries. More than half the refugee population lives in Jordan. Approximately 37.7% live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, comprising about 50 percent of the population in those areas. About 15% live in almost equal numbers in Syria and Lebanon. About 355,000 internally displaced Palestinians reside in 1948 occupied lands. The remaining refugee population lives throughout the world, including the rest of the Arab world, America and Europe. Of the 5.1 million refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 33% live in UNRWA’s 59 refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
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