The Palestinian refugees are the indigenous Arab inhabitants of historic Palestine (what is now Israel, the occupied west Bank and the Gaza strip), who were displaced or expelled from their original  homes, and their descendants. they have never been allowed to return to their homes and now comprise one of the world’s largest refugee populations. they are the longest suffering too — 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of their initial dispossession.

Today there are more than seven million Palestinian refugees exiled around the globe. the number is made up of three groups: those who were made refugees before and during the 1948 war, after the British withdrew; those who were made refugees during the 1967 ‘six day war’; and those who were made refugees as a result of policies of the Israeli government, policies that amount to ‘low intensity population transfer’. Read more in the refugee factsheet

The Right of Return in International Law

In addition to its clear moral basis, the right of return of Palestinian refugees has a solid foundation in international law and is enshrined in a number of UN resolutions:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13: “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
  • International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5:“state parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone… to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return to one’s country.”
  •  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 12: “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.
  • Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49: “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory… are prohibited, regardless of their motive… Persons thus evacuated must be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.”
  • UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, Article 3: “states shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for…: (b) any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources; (c) any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights…”
  • 1948 — UN General Assembly Resolution 194, Article 11: “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property”
  • 1967 — UN General Assembly Resolution 237: “Calls upon the government of israel to… facilitate the return of those inhabitants who have fled the areas since the outbreak of hostilities.”
  • 1974 — UN General Assembly Resolution 3236, Subsection 2: “Reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return.”
  • 1997 — UN General Assembly Resolution 52/56, Subsection 1: “Reaffirms that the Palestine arab refugees are entitled to their property and to income derived therefrom, in conformity with the principles of justice and equality.”

The right of return is an inalienable and basic human right and as such it cannot be negotiated away. Israel’s denial of this right is illegal under international law. 


Read more in the refugee factsheet