Canada: One way to help the Syrian crisis is to insist that Palestinian refugees in Syria be allowed to return to Israel


The Yarmuk refugee camp, in the suburbs of Damascus, has been especially hard hit during the Syrian crisis. It holds over 100,000 Palestinians, trapped there since they were expelled from Israel in 1948. Allowing them to return to where they came from, would be a big help in the current Syrian refugee crisis.

The Syrian crisis is one of the worst in modern times. More than 3 million people have been displaced. Compared to other countries, Canada’s response has been miserly. We have accepted only a handful of refugees, (about 750 so far) and even then the Harper government proposes to cherry pick refugees on ethnic/religious grounds.

Former Ambassador Paul Heinbecker has argued recently in the Globe that Canada should quickly open its doors to many more, and do so on the basis of need – not racist grounds.

But there is another step the Canadian government could take to relieve the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees: We could press for the enforcement of UN resolution194 which supports the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

Over a half a million of the refugees in Syria are actually Palestinians. They became refugees when they were expelled from their homes and villages in the Galilee in 1948. Their homes are just over the border in todays Israel, less than a hundred kilometres away. Their homes are not in conflict areas.

According to the UN relief agency, UNRWA, all nine Palestine refugee camps in Syria are severely affected by the conflict. One of the worst hit is the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk, now a suburb of Damascus. Yarmuk has been attacked by both the Syrian regime and the rebels. According to the UN, conditions in Yarmuk are drastic, with inhabitants facing widespread starvation.

The only reason the Palestinians in Yarmuk cannot return to their homes is that Israel won’t accept them because they are not Jewish. Canada has voted many times in favour of resolution 194. Now is a good time to demand that it be respected.