Palestinian Refugees: An Overview

Estimates vary of the number of Palestinians refugees displaced from within what became the borders of Israel in 1948. In 1949, the United Nations Conciliation Commission put the number at 726,000; the newly-established United Nations Relief and Works Agency subsequently put the number at 957,000 in 1950. The Israeli government has in the past suggested numbers as low as 520,000, while Palestinian researchers have suggested up to 850,000. Of this population, approximately one-third fled to the West Bank, another third to the Gaza Strip, and the remainder to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon or farther afield.

TABLE 1: District of Origin of UNRWA-Registered Refugees (1992)

In 1967, another 300,000 Palestinians fled from the West Bank and Gaza, to Jordan (200,000), Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. Of these, approximately 180,000 were first-time refugees ("displaced persons"), while the remainder were 1948 refugees uprooted for the second time.

Estimates put the Palestinian population at approximately 6.6 million in 1995. In 1995, UNRWA data showed some 3,172,641 registered refugees in its "area of operation" (West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon), plus an estimated 335,000 non-registered "displaced persons".

TABLE 2: UNRWA Registered Refugees (June 1995)
In CampsNot in CampsTotal
West Bank131,705385,707517,412

Since the initiation of the Middle East peace process in Madrid in 1991, the refugee issue has been addressed by Palestinians, Israel, other regional parties and outside actors in a variety of political frameworks. For more detail, see:
The refugees in the Middle East process.

In the context of those negotiations, as well as in work of NGOs and analysts, a number of key political issues have emerged. For more details, see:
Resolving the refugee question.

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Rex Brynen * * 8 August 1996