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from issue no. 05 - 2006


How many refugees are there and how many live in refugee camps

by Giovanni Cubeddu

Who are the Palestinian refugees? In the official definition of the United Nations they are those who at the time of the first Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948 had lived already for two years in Palestine, and because of the war lost their homes and livelihood. These sad conditions were required for them to sign up on a voluntary basis on the relevant registers of the UN that, from 1950, began to provide some essential health, social, educational, professional formation and micro-credit services.
Distribution of humanitarian aid in the Jaramana Camp in Damascus

Distribution of humanitarian aid in the Jaramana Camp in Damascus

But because of the still unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict we have today reached the fourth generation of refugees.
The United Nations has the most updated sources of data on this homeless, today mainly scattered through Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, in very dissimilar living conditions. In the first census of 1950 the official refugees were little less than 915 thousand, today they are over 4 million 200 thousand.
The Palestinians who initially fled to Jordan very slowly saw their rights as normal citizens recognized (with the exception of the 100 thousand Palestinians who originally came from Gaza, then under Egypt, and leaving aside episodes such as the “black September” of 1970). Today they are 95 thousand.
In Syria where 424 thousand refugees live, the situation is of progressive, even if not full, social integration.
In Lebanon, the refugees are 400 thousand without civil rights or assistance.
In Gaza 961 thousand are of refugee status, that is three quarters of the population of the Strip.
On the West Bank more than 687 thousand resident refugees also directly suffer the problems arising from the “wall” separating them from Israel.
But the numbers so far reported conceal a much more bitter reality, because among the refugees there are those who, still today, live exclusively in the refugee camps run by the UN (to which the numbers of the so-called “non-official” camps should be added). Here are the data, at least of the official camps.
In Jordan at present there are ten refugee camps and more than 280 thousand people live there.
In Syria there are ten camps for about 112 thousand refugees.
In Lebanon there are twelve refugee camps where, according to the UN, there is the highest concentration of people and poverty, and the 210 thousand refugees who live there are considered to be in a state of “special privation”. The isolation and frustration is such that outsiders are discouraged from entering these camps. The former Israeli premier Ehud Barak one day found himself confessing that had he remained as long in a refugee camp he too would have become a terrorist.
In Gaza there is a density of refugees that is among the highest in the world: eight camps host 471 thousand refugees; in one, Camp Beach, 78 thousand human beings live in less than a square kilometer. And when the Karni checkpoint between Gaza and Israel was closed by the Israeli army for security reasons, the humanitarian aid could not get through, and the crisis was immediate.
On the West Bank 18 thousand refugees live scattered in 19 camps.

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