palestine refugees and the syria crisis

In 2017, conditions in Syria are expected to remain volatile and marked by continuing and intense armed violence and limited humanitarian access. Amid this unconscionable bloodshed and destruction, Palestine refugees remain particularly vulnerable and have been disproportionately affected by the conflict, due to their proximity to conflict areas inside Syria, high rates of poverty, and the tenuous legal status of those forced to flee to Lebanon and Jordan.

Of the estimated 450,000 Palestine refugees that remain inside Syria, over 95% (430,000) are in critical need of sustained humanitarian assistance in order to survive. Almost 280,000 are internally displaced, and an estimated 43,000 are trapped in hard-to-reach or inaccessible locations.

Delivering vital assistance and services to Palestine refugees remains a major challenge for the Agency. Over 120,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) have fled the country, including over 31,000 who have fled to Lebanon and over 16,000 to Jordan. Many PRS in Lebanon and Jordan have been pushed into a precarious and marginalized existence due to their uncertain legal status and face limited social protection, making them heavily reliant on UNRWA for their basic needs.

Within this complex and challenging operating environment, UNRWA will continue to adapt and innovate to ensure that it meets the essential needs of PRS affected by the Syria crisis, for whom it will remain the main provider of basic relief and humanitarian assistance.

In 2017 UNRWA requires $411 million for its humanitarian response to the Syria crisis in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Read more in the 2017 Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal

Facts to know about Syria right now

last updated April 5, 2017

Syria 6 years

  • Entering its seventh year in March, the Syrian conflict has created over 5 million refugees and caused the displacement of an estimated 6.3 million within the country.

  • Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions more injured over the six years of fighting in Syria.  

  • The conflict continues with brutal intensity while efforts to reach a political solution have failed so far. The last months have been some of the worst yet for civilians inside Syria. 

Fighting and the Impact on Palestine Refugees

  • Throughout February and March 2017, there has been a serious escalation armed engagements in the Deraa Governorate, on the southern and eastern edges of Damascus and in the Homs and Hama Governorates affecting hundreds of thousands including Palestine refugees living in those areas.

  • Yet in spite of hardship caused by the conflict, UNRWA has received news that it will be able to directly access from Damascus two areas previously hard-to-reach. This includes Khan Eshieh camp, 25 km southwest of Damascus and the humanitarian aid distribution point in Yalda adjacent to Yarmouk.

  • On March 30, 2017, an interagency convoy reached Khan Eshieh camp with humanitarian assistance to residents of camp. Eight UNRWA trucks delivered 1,500 food parcels, 1,500 hygiene kits, and 50 kg of medicines.  

  • Humanitarian access to Khan Eshieh has been heavily constrained since 2013. However, UNRWA staff residing in the camp ensured continuous service delivery to residents. The March 30th convoy, the first to Khan Eshieh in 2017, enabled UNRWA to deliver much-needed emergency assistance to the area.


  • In March 2017, fighting in and around Damascus had intensified in recent weeks after four suicide attacks killed more than one hundred civilians on March 11 and 15. The attacks coincided with the six year anniversary of the war and have ushered in a period of instability in the capital. There is no indication that fighting will subside.

Damascus suburbs:

Eastern Ghouta:

  • In Eastern Ghouta, the suburb east of the old city in Damascus, fighting between armed groups and the Government are putting hundreds of thousands at risk of death, injury, while humanitarian needs are becoming acute.

  • Palestine refugees most affected by the recent wave of fighting are in Qaboun and Barzeh. In response to the fighting taking place on the edge of Damascus, in Eastern Ghouta, UNRWA has been distributing vital food and non-food assistance for Palestine refugees newly displaced from Qaboun and Barza.


  • Yarmouk turned into a theater of war in December 2012. It remains categorized as a besieged area by OCHA. UNRWA has not been able to directly access the camp since April 2015 when ISIL entered the area.

  • To reach the Palestine refugees from Yarmouk, UNRWA changed its humanitarian aid route via the neighboring area of Yalda in 2015.

  • The last time UNRWA was able to distribute humanitarian aid to Palestine refugee as well as provide mobile health service was on May 25, 2016.

  • This week, UNRWA has been granted permission for the safe delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to Palestine refugees in Yalda adjacent to Yarmouk.

Deraa Governorate:

  • In the southern Governorate, fighting among parties to the conflict in the area is causing the displacement of Palestine refugees, impeding humanitarian access to critical aid and has resulted in the deaths of Palestine refugees through February and the start of March.

  • In response, UNRWA has been providing families fleeing the violence food and non-food items to the families who have reached its installations in Dera’a City and Damascus. Every effort has been made to enroll displaced children in UNRWA schools.

  • Dera’a camp which remains inaccessible to UNRWA continues to be hit by mortars. On March 22, Al Safsaf school was hit by a mortar. One classroom was damaged. 16 days of school missed since January 2017. School has been closed for the last week and will remain closed on Monday.

  • In Jilin, a village west of Deraa city, UNRWA provided assistance to over 200 families who have escaped violence engulfed the village at the end of February. Both schools have been closed since February 21.

  • UNRWA estimates that over 90 percent of the Palestine refugee families from Jilin have fled as a result of the escalation of armed violence reported to have started on February 20.

  • In other parts of the Governorate, UNRWA continues to provide services such as schooling and health provision to an estimated 3,000 families in the area. However to receive UNRWA humanitarian assistance comprised of cash for food, supplementary food parcels and non-food items, Palestine refugees must to travel to Dera’a City for it. That can take up to eight hours to cover a 15 km journey on a dangerous road subject to sporadic closure.

Impact of Crisis on Palestine Refugees: Facts & figures

  • Over 60 percent of the 450,000 Palestine refugees inside Syria are displaced, while 28,900 are trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas like in Yarmouk and in the Governorate of Dera'a.

  • As of October 2016, World Bank estimates unemployment rate was 60 percent. Of the 450,000 Palestine refugees in Syria, 430,000 are wholly reliant on UNRWA humanitarian aid comprised of cash, food and non-food items.

  • The proximity of camps and gatherings to conflict areas has resulted in high rates of poverty among the Palestinian community, forcing 95 percent of the Palestine refugees in Syria to wholly rely on UNRWA emergency cash and food programs to survive.

  • Over 40 percent of the camps that have traditionally been home to Palestine refugee communities over the last 65 years in Syria have been engulfed by conflict.

  • Out of the 12 Palestine refugee camps throughout the country, five are either destroyed or inaccessible to the Agency, including Ein el Tal, Dera’a camp, Yarmouk, Sbeineh, and Khan Eshieh.

Impact of Conflict on UNRWA Staff & Installations

  • UNRWA has around 4,000 staff members and 219 facilities serving Palestine refugees across Syria. 17 Agency staff have lost their lives since the beginning of the conflict.

  • Since the beginning of the crisis, 60 percent of the UNRWA installations have been damaged or rendered inaccessible.

  • There were three armed incursions against UNRWA installations in March alone.

  • The Syria crisis has affected three generations of Palestine refugees. The first generation originally fled from northern Palestine in 1948 and subsequently others came from the Golan Heights in 1967 and from Lebanon at the height of the civil war in 1982. Once more, Palestine refugees find themselves in the midst of horrifying conflict. Many of them have been displaced inside Syria, to Lebanon and Jordan, and further afield. They have had to leave everything behind. Struggling with the effects of the war, each person tries to find his or her way to cope on a daily basis. 

Palestine Refugees of Syria and Over 60 Years of Displacement in Volatile Region