The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) provides free legal help to some refugees and displaced people.
- IRAP helps some people find services and prepare refugee and visa applications.
- IRAP is not part of any government, IOM, or UNHCR.
- IRAP cannot grant refugee status or visas or speed up cases.
- IRAP cannot provide financial help, find or pay for housing, or find jobs.
- All of IRAP’s help is free. No one affiliated with IRAP has the right to ask you for money or any other service.
IRAP decides to help people based on their need and eligibility for immigration status. IRAP does not decide to help people based on any other social or political or religious criteria.
This website provides general information about legal processes available to some refugees. It is not meant as legal advice for individual applications.
This information was revised in August 2023. Requirements may change. Always check for current requirements from the government or agency deciding your request.
If you are in a refugee emergency, we recommend that you contact the UNHCR office in the country where you live .
This guide explains legal options that displaced Palestinian refugees might have for relocation to a country where they would be eligible to apply for permanent residency.
The guide also provides legal information about why the main United Nations agency that deals with refugees, UNHCR, treats Palestinian refugees differently than other refugees. Many people who must leave their homes seek help from UNHCR. However, many refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt who have Palestinian ancestry cannot register with UNHCR, which means that they may not be able to access the help that UNHCR can provide. This guide explains how the UN works with Palestinian refugees.
This guide does not provide information or resources about processes to leave the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, or to enter any neighboring country. The options for relocation described in this guide are immigration processes that usually take a very long time and are not generally options for emergency situations.
IRAP believes that all people, including Palestinians, should have the right to seek asylum and to access their human rights.
What relocation options do displaced Palestinian refugees have?
- Family Reunification Pathways: Palestinian refugees who have relatives in countries where they wish to immigrate may be able to apply for family reunification. IRAP’s guides on family reunification to the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, and Canada are available here.
- Employment-Related Pathways: Other pathways such as employment-based migration or assistance for activists, scholars, journalists, or artists may be available to Palestinian refugees.
Humanitarian Pathways Requiring a Sponsor: Other emergency relocation pathways might be available to Palestinian refugees who are in very difficult circumstances. Many of them require a sponsor, which is a person or organization who is willing to sign an official government document and provide documentation saying they are able to financially support the applicant.
- IRAP’s guide on humanitarian parole applications to enter the United States is here.
- Information about Canadian private sponsorship for refugee resettlement is here. Some private sponsorship programs in Canada require an individual to show that they are recognized as a refugee by UNHCR.
Refugee Resettlement Referrals: Many resettlement countries will consider Palestinian refugees for resettlement. However, refugees usually cannot apply on their own, directly for resettlement. UNHCR usually refers refugees to countries to apply for resettlement.
- UNHCR does not generally register Palestinian refugees who are in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. That also means that UNHCR does not generally refer Palestinian refugees in those countries for resettlement.
- The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides education, health, and other services to Palestine refugees in five locations, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, does not provide resettlement services or referrals.
- Outside those five places, UNHCR might register Palestinian refugees in some situations. UNHCR might refer some of those refugees for resettlement. More information on UNHCR’s resettlement process is here.
- Palestinian refugees in Egypt are also generally excluded from registering with UNHCR because of a policy of the Egyptian government.
- For the U.S. refugee resettlement process, refugees must be referred by an embassy, NGO, or UNHCR. Information on the U.S. resettlement process is here.
Information about IRAP’s free legal services is available here. Anyone seeking assistance including Palestinian refugees can request legal help through IRAP’s chatbot on Facebook by clicking here or on Telegram by clicking here.
Why are Palestinian refugees treated differently than other refugees?
This section of the guide explains some important terms and organizations and then describes the UNHCR policy that affects many Palestinian refugees.
The international treaty that defines a refugee (says what it means to be a refugee) is called the Refugee Convention. It was signed in 1951, and the UNHCR uses the Refugee Convention when deciding who and how it will assist. At that time, many refugees were recently displaced from Palestine.
This guide refers to two kinds of refugees:
- Palestine refugees. The UN agency that helps Palestine refugees defines this group as: “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” It also includes all of their descendants.
- Convention refugees. A Convention refugee is a person who meets the definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Convention has certain requirements for when a person is included in the refugee definition, such as where they are located, whether they fear harm in the future, and the kind of harm they fear. The Convention also excludes people from refugee protection for certain reasons, like if they acquired a new nationality. More about that definition is in IRAP’s guide here.
This guide also refers to two UN agencies:
- The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is responsible for helping Palestine refugees.
- UNRWA provides education, health, and other services to Palestine refugees in five locations: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
- UNRWA does not provide resettlement services.
- To contact UNRWA in your country of residence, please visit this UNRWA website.
UNHCR is the UN agency that helps Convention refugees and other kinds of stateless people.
- UNHCR refers some refugees for resettlement.
- More about UNHCR’s resettlement is available in IRAP’s guide.
The Refugee Convention
UNHCR’s policy about Palestinian refugees comes from article 1(D) from the Refugee Convention. This says:
"This Convention shall not apply to persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection or assistance.
"When such protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the position of such persons being definitively settled in accordance with the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, these persons shall ipso facto be entitled to the benefits of this Convention."
In plain language, this means that if there is another UN agency that is working with refugees in a certain region (such as UNRWA), then the Refugee Convention does not apply to those refugees. However, there are many ways to interpret this, and a lot of experts have disagreed about who is affected by these two sentences.Many experts have disagreed about who is affected by these two sentences.
UNHCR interprets this part of the treaty to mean that Palestine refugees in some situations cannot be considered refugees under the Refugee Convention.
UNHCR excludes a Palestine refugee from the Refugee Convention if they are in a place where UNRWA operates: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It also excludes a Palestine refugee if they are outside the places where UNRWA operates, but the person could safely return to one of those places.
A Palestine refugee can be excluded whether or not the person is registered with UNRWA. They can also be excluded whether or not the person actually has received any protection or assistance from UNRWA.
Palestine refugees in Egypt are also excluded from refugee status because of a policy from the Egyptian government.
Many governments apply the Refugee Convention differently and will recognize Palestine refugees in more situations than UNHCR.
What is the current state of visa processing for US Embassies in the region?
Certain US embassies in MENA countries (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon) have experienced disruptions and/or paused visa processing for both immigrant and non-immigrant visas. In most cases, these pauses affect some or all non-US citizens, not just Palestinians. For an updated list of Embassy visa statuses, please use the tool below or visit https://bit.ly/IRAP-MENA-US-Embassies for a larger version. (This tool is currently in English.)