After the horrific terror attacks in Paris and Beirut and the downing of a Russian jetliner over the Sinai, as many as 31 US governors said Syrian refugees were unwelcome. By contrast, President Barack Obama called on world leaders to continue to accept refugees, saying that many “are victims of terrorism themselves.”
We agree. We recognize that these attacks will feed into a European—and indeed a global—sense of insecurity and vulnerability. But this is no time for the world to close the door to the refugees. We also believe that while much attention has rightly focused on the plight of Syrian refugees overall, we must pay special attention to the Palestinian refugees from Syria, who are among the most vulnerable: They are still stateless after decades in exile, and they have been denied rights granted to other refugees, including in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey.
At the start of the Syrian conflict, there were 560,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria. Those Palestinians who have fled Syria have seen their mobility and access to international protection curtailed, in part because of their special legal status under an exclusion clause in the 1951 UN convention on the status of refugees.
This special status has created an opportunity for discrimination. Because Palestinian refugees do not have the same rights under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as other refugees from Syria in Middle Eastern countries, they live in constant fear of arrest and forced return to Syria.
For example, in 2013, the Jordanian government announced a non-entry policy for Palestinian refugees. Palestinians who fled Syria for Jordan cannot legally live in the refugee camps established for Syrians, nor do they have the legal right to earn money to rent other housing. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour has justified Jordan’s restrictive policies as necessary to avoid absolving Israel of its responsibility to allow Palestinian refugees the right of return.
In Lebanon, as of May 2014, Syria-registered Palestinian refugees could only enter if they had documents for travel to a third country, limiting their stay to a maximum of nine hours. Restrictions on the ability of Palestinians from Syria to legally renew residency papers put the majority under the threat of arrest and deportation to Syria.