Fifty thousand refugees have arrived recently in Europe and many more are on the way. They include Palestinians reliving their original catastrophe — the Nakba of 1948 — as they search for shelter. Hundreds, even thousands, have lost their lives in the process.
Until 2011, nearly half a million Palestinian refugees lived in Syria. It was generally understood that they were living the most stable lives compared to their compatriots. Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp outside of Palestine, was described as “the capital of the Palestinian Diaspora”, and it basically became a residential extension of Damascus before it was turned into a scene of ruin, death and hunger by the Syrian conflict.
The tragedy that hit Syria has dispelled all illusions, though, with the realisation that the Palestinian refugee communities are actually extremely fragile and very quickly pay the price for any turbulence and crises in the host countries. This has happened before in Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq.
Compared to the masses of refugees now flocking to Europe, the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria has its own characteristics. This lies in the fact that they are forced to endure a new “exodus” and suffering as they seek a place of safety, even though their homeland is little more than an hour’s drive from their refugee camps. The Palestinian families must make the long, perilous journey across borders, coasts and mountains, meeting the outrageous demands of the greedy, criminal gangs of human traffickers in order to reach Europe.
However, Europe is so preoccupied by the refugee crisis that it does not care about the essence of the problem that created it. As far as the Palestinians coming from Syria are concerned, the issue is fairly clear, so why doesn’t the European Union work towards the most logical and practical solutions, such as returning them to their own land, at least temporarily? Why is such a discussion missing from Europe’s meetings held to figure out ways to contain the crises on its borders?
Over a third of a million Palestinians, many of whom are refugees driven from their homes and camps, live in Europe. We are witnessing new chapters in their suffering; these human beings whom the Israelis have forbidden from returning to their land from which they were expelled in 1948 and 1967. They are not even allowed to visit their country, in a clear violation of international laws and conventions.
Logic dictates that we empower the Palestinian refugees with their legitimate right to return to their land and homes, which are nearby. If not, they will continue to be forced to look for safe havens across continents after disaster-ridden journeys. There is no doubt that a huge part of the responsibility for this lies with Europe, which created the historical conditions that resulted in the tragedy of the Palestinian people in the first place.
EU officials talk about the importance of linking aid to Eastern European countries with their willingness to accept their share of refugees, and there are even those who call for linking negotiations about joining the European Union to the countries’ treatment of refugees. Isn’t such discourse also required with the “Israeli partner” which benefits from many European economic, educational and military privileges and treaties?
Why is Europe unable to even think about using its influence to put pressure on the Israeli government to activate the Palestinian right of return, which was endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194? The Palestinians, many of whom still have the keys to their homes in occupied Palestine, have the right to live in their homeland. The routes to their cities, towns and villages are well-known to those who want to ask about them, and maps are readily available.
If the European Union and the international community do not address the core of this issue by reviving and implementing the legitimate Palestinian right of return, then thousands will continue to head for Europe and many will die along the way. Which of these two possibilities does the EU and the rest of the world prefer?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.