Syria’s double refugees: Palestinians forced to risk everything to reach Europe

Rohan Talbot is Campaigns and Media Officer at Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a partner organisation in the Health through Peace movement.  The Medact Refugee Solidarity Group (MRSG)** supports MAP’s campaign for equal rights for Palestinian refugees from Syria. Contact the MRSG at [email protected]



Last month, rescue workers operating in the Mediterranean issued a stark warning that the refugee crisis is deepening and that more people are dying on the perilous route to Europe than ever before. Many of these people are fleeing the horrors of the war in Syria, leaving their homes and families in a desperate search of safety.


Recently, Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) Campaigns Team recorded testimonies of Palestinian families who have fled from Syria and are now living in Lebanon.


One in five of Syria’s 560,000 Palestinian refugees have also fled the war yet they are currently excluded from the UK’s resettlement scheme.


We learned why increasing numbers are choosing to risk their lives to reach Europe. These twice-displaced refugees told us of the hardships they face in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps. They struggle to access essential healthcare and education opportunities for their children, with UNRWA services stretched by the increased demands and the organisation’s ongoing financial deficit. Palestinians are also barred from working in many professions in Lebanon, leaving families unable to cover their basic needs.


One woman, Mona*, told us that her house in Damascus, had been destroyed by fighting in 2012. Her family escaped to Lebanon, where they have struggled to get by on the meagre humanitarian aid they could access. As well as her own five children, Mona also looks after her husband’s brother’s young daughter who suffered severe burns when her house was also destroyed in a bombing which killed her entire family. Though she has had one surgical operation to improve her mobility, the girl needs further intensive medical care that Mona has been unable to access for her.


Nine months ago, unable to find work, Mona’s husband left for Europe in search of a better life for his family. In order to get there, he returned to Syria and journeyed through ISIS-held territory to enter Turkey, walking through the desert for three days on the route. When he then tried to cross the Mediterranean from Turkey his boat capsized, killing everyone aboard except him.


Now he is safely in Germany, but the family can only wait to see if they will be able to join him there.


No safe route


Vulnerable Syrians are already able to apply for schemes which will allow them to resettle – safely – in Europe, with the UK government pledging to take 20,000 such people by 2020. One in five of Syria’s 560,000 Palestinian refugees have also fled the war yet they are currently excluded from the UK’s resettlement scheme.


The war in Syria shows no sign of ending soon, and these double refugees continue to be denied their right to return to their families’ homes in Palestine. Without access to safe, government-sponsored temporary resettlement schemes even for those most urgently in need of medical care and humanitarian protection, and facing poverty and a total lack of opportunity for a better life in Lebanon, it is little wonder that an estimated 60,000 Palestinians have chosen to risk their lives to reach Europe.


The UK must do more


If the UK government wishes to put an end to the images of bodies washing up on Europe’s shores, it can start by ensuring that some of the most vulnerable refugees – including Palestinians from Syria – have opportunities for safe routes to temporary resettlement and protection in Britain. This is particularly vital for those in need of medical care who are unable to receive treatment in Lebanon.


By increasing support to UNRWA and NGOs in Lebanon, and urging other countries to do the same, the UK government can also ensure that such people are also able to live dignified, healthy lives until they can return home.


Next week the world’s governments will meet at the UN in New York to decide how to respond to the current crisis. Syria’s Palestinian refugees must not be forgotten from this discussion.




*Name changed to protect identity
** The MRSG campaign for refugee and migrant rights and provide training on healthcare accessibility for migrants and refugees in the UK.