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.
Many refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt who have Palestinian ancestry sometimes cannot register with UNHCR. This guide explains this policy. It also explains options that Palestinians might have for relocation to a country where they would be eligible for permanent residency.
IRAP believes that all people, including Palestinians, should have the right to seek asylum and to access their human rights.
The international treaty that defines a refugee is called the Refugee Convention. It was signed in 1951. 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. 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."
This part of the Refugee Convention is not clear. 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 relocation options does a Palestine refugee have?
UNHCR does not generally register Palestine 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 Palestine refugees in those countries for resettlement.
- Outside those five places, UNHCR might register Palestine refugees in some situations. UNHCR might refer some of those refugees for resettlement. More information on UNHCR’s resettlement process is here.
- UNRWA does not provide resettlement services.
- Many resettlement countries will consider a Palestine refugee for resettlement. Remember that refugees usually cannot apply for resettlement. They must be referred by an embassy, NGO, or UNHCR.
- Other emergency relocation pathways might be available to Palestine refugees who are in very difficult circumstances. Many of them require a sponsor.