The Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon, 1952. Photo: UNRWA.
Around 19,000 Palestinians live in Denmark today. Most of these came to Denmark during the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980’s. The older generation was born in Palestine, while many young Palestinians have never been to the country. They were born and raised in refugee camps in Lebanon.
Palestinian refugees began to arrive in Denmark in larger groups in 1985. The civil war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990 resulted in worsened conditions in the refugee camps. Together with the Israeli-controlled massacres in 1982, which killed 3,000 civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, great waves of refugees were sent to other countries including Denmark. A total of 1 million people fled.
The formation of the state of Israel in 1948 and, later, the Six-Day War in 1967 where Israel occupied, for example, the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, meant that many Palestinians fled. They went to live in large refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Since 1948, the Palestinian refugees have been stateless, because Palestine did not exist as a state. Many of the refugees were thus born as refugees. The status as a stateless person is passed on, so that children of parents who have lived in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, are born as stateless Palestinian refugees.
The escape from war and life in the refugee camps meant that many of the refugees were traumatized.
TALES OF PALESTINE
Although the majority of the Palestinian refugees were born and raised in exile, a sense of belonging to Palestine is important for many. Among the refugees, there is thus a tradition of telling stories about Palestine and about the village one comes from to the younger generations. Some, if possible, travel to Palestine to visit family. In this way some Palestinians, maintain a connection to the home country.
Many Palestinians from the same villages seek asylum in the same places. Out of the approx.19,000 Palestinians living in Denmark more than 1,000 Palestinians are from the village of Lubya, which was cleared by Israel in 1948.
RECEIVED WITH SUSPICION
In the second half of the 1980s, a change in their attitude towards refugees and immigrants started amongst some of Denmark’s population. Fears spread that too many refugees and immigrants would come to the country. This affected the Palestinians, amongst others, who were met with suspicion by some and later also by a tightening of the asylum regulations. While many Palestinian refugees were granted asylum in the 1980s, most were refused after 1990.
In 1992, the first special law on immigration granted asylum to some Palestinian refugees who were sentenced to deportation. Before then, 70 Palestinian men were given asylum in a church in the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen, where they had lived beneath the crypt for 154 days.