Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 17 - March 2019 عربى
Regional Developments

Over 33 Million Due Restitution in MENA

This article was written before the 9,500 Libyans were displaced from Haftar attacks of April 2019.


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continues to face overwhelming challenges, with multiple and complex emergencies on a scale unprecedented since Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. While MENA has experienced mass forced displacements since the earliest civilizations arose there, it is currently distinguished as the region hosting the largest proportion of the world’s refugees and displaced.

In diagnosing the crisis, calculating those persons holding the rights to reparation from forced displacement also remains a particular challenge. No regional body or UN source provides a full picture over time and geography, partly because the exercise is fraught with unresolved political issues and methodological questions such as which cases to include and at which historic point to start counting. However, if we were to consider those refugees and displaced persons over the lifetimes of this article’s potential readers, the total of victims entitled to reparation [AR], including restitution of their homes, land and properties, exceeds 33 million across the region. Let us consider the components of this sum, in alphabetical order by state.

Algeria’s colonization and war of liberation left 1.5 million Algerian dead and between 2 and 3 million evicted from their homes and rounded up in French concentration camps. The brutal civil war of the 1990s left 200,000 dead and 8,000 disappeared, almost all men. They left behind a generation of mostly women-headed households with an estimated 1.5 millionAlgerians displaced to the outskirts of many cities. The issue remains controversial, as no displaced persons are officially recognized since 2007. However, for various reasons, as many as 1.5 million still remain holders of the unfulfilled right to reparation, including restitution of their lost homes, lands and properties.

In Iraq, the common figure currently cited for internally displaced persons (IDPs) is 3.3 million Iraqis displaced since January 2014 alone. However the latest IOM Iraq Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) identified 3,320,844 Iraqi IDPs (553,474 families) from between 1 January 2014 and February 2016 alone.

This calculation omits the estimated 500,000 Kurdish Iraqi refugees and persons displaced from Saddam Husain’s al-Anfal “Arabization” campaigns of the 1980s, many of whom have returned since 2003 amid 130,000 restitution claims. It also does not include the roughly 180,000 Marsh Arabs (Ma`dan) forced out of their habitat in 1993 and never returned.

Most of the 810,000 Lebanese persons displaced by the country’s civil war (1975–91) and subsequent Israeli wars on Lebanon (1 million in 2006 alone) have returned or resettled. However, of persons displaced by the battles of Nahr al-Barid, in 2007, some 20,400 remained in temporary accommodations in September 2010. As of 2012, some 76,000 persons were classified as displaced in Lebanon.

A 2015 study of Lebanese displaced by the war in Syria identified 28,574 returnees at risk and ineligible for any assistance. IDMC reported 11,000 displaced Lebanese as of December 2017. No official Lebanese source reports figures on the Lebanese remaining displaced from any of the upheavals since 1975. The implementation of new Laws 159/92 and 160/92 on lease and acquisition of residential units augur the eviction of some 200,000 poor households and vulnerable groups living in Beirut. In this very fluid displacement situation, we can only project a round number: a conservative 20,000.

In Libya, Muammar Qadhdhafi’s Law No. 4/1978 led to the confiscation of 56,000–75,000 properties, potentially affecting 375,000 persons. Through a Compensation Committee established in 2006, 25,148 claims submitted by 2011 remain unresolved.

The events of 2011 reportedly led to the displacement of 543,844 (rounded to 550,000) persons, but that number declined to about 56,000 after Qadhdhafi’s fall. By 2015, internal fighting raised that number again to some 400,000. In 2017, numbers fluctuated from 165,478 IDPs in April to 217,000 in September and 197,000 in December. As of 1 March 2019, 445,845 IDPs had returned (during 2016–2018), but without reparation for their losses.

Libya’s Transitional Justice Law 29/2013, adopted in 2013, did not operationalize the associated Fact-finding and Reconciliation Committee. While that law focused primarily on violent crimes against physical and natural persons, its Article 28 deferred the issue of HLP violations and restitution to subsequent legislation still pending.

In the case of Palestine, fully three-quarters of the indigenous people are displaced and entitled to reparation for their losses, costs and damages incurred through the serious crime of population transfer. Palestinian refugees total at least 7.2 million worldwide. More than 5,355,000 Palestinian 1948 refugees and their descendants are registered with UNRWA and eligible for interim humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, another 1.7 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, also displaced in 1948, are not registered with the UN. Refugees forced to flee in 1967 and their descendants today number about 834,000 persons

About 355,000 Palestinians and their descendants are internally displaced and hold various civil status inside Israel. This may include either an inferior form of Israeli citizenship (i.e., without “Jewish nationality”) or statelessness inside present-day Israel.

This number does not include the Palestinians living in the southern Naqab region who underwent ethnic cleansing and removal to the siyaj (“confinement area”) with Israel’s demolition and depopulation of 108 of their villages and village points during 1951–53. The majority of those reparation-rights holders are represented by the 36,000 inhabitants of “unrecognized villages” facing further displacement under current Israeli population transfer policy.

House demolition, forced removals, revocation of residency rights and construction of illegal colonies on confiscated Palestinian land in Jerusalem and the West Bank has created a further category of at least 57,000 Palestinian IDPs, including 15,000 people so far displaced by the construction of Israel’s Annexation Wall.

Sudan has 5.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including those in 11 states experiencing global acute malnutrition. However, the snapshot of Sudanese displaced from their homes and lands in 2018 shows that 312,000 Sudanese (Darfur) refugees remain in Chad, while 2.1 million remain IDPs in need inside Darfur. Meanwhile, White Nile and Blue Nile states have produced 230,000 current IDPs. Meanwhile, 241,500 Sudanese refugees remain in South Sudan, 2,000 in Central African Republic, 40,000 in Ethiopia and 36,195 registered in Egypt. The figure for Egypt is generally believed to be a gross underestimate, while many more of the 2 million Sudanese in Egypt are refugees, in fact, but see little benefit in seeking recognition.

On the side of progress, a total of 533,000 displaced persons had returned after the conflicts that displaced them since 2003. However, that does not mean that those persons have received any form of reparations, including restitution of their housing, lands and properties.

In Syria, the UN estimated in 2015 that the uprising and eventual war has uprooted 13.5 million Syrians. While 5,684,381 have fled their homes and lands as registered refugees in adjacent or more-distant countries, 6.6 million Syrians are IDPs. The remaining balance includes about 117,000 who have returned to an uncertain fate and those who have fled Syria, but not registered as refugees.

The Western Sahara population living as registered refugees since 1975 is about 174,000, rounded from UNCHR’s total camp census of 173,600 in March 2018. This figure represents only those formally counted in the refugee camps around Tindouf, Algeria. It does not allow for those Sahrawi refugees in other locations such as neighboring Mauritania or further afield, nor does it count those dispossessed and/or displaced by the Moroccan military occupation since 1975 inside Western Sahara and also entitled to HLP restitution as a component of reparation.

As of the current updates, 3.9 million have suffered internal displacement in Yemen throughout the four-year war. While an estimated 1 million have returned and 1.2 million have received some kind of in-kind or cash assistance, these hand-outs do not meet the criteria of reparation for HLP losses. This IDP total also does not include the 190,352 Yemenis who have taken refuge outside the country.

While these calculation focus on the current emergency, they also omit the untold numbers of persons and households dispossessed during the previous 30-year regime of `Ali `Abdullah Salih. Notably among the untold victims and their stolen lands and homes are many small farmers of Hudaydah Province, where over 60% of farm lands were taken by 148 corrupt political, economic and religious and tribal leaders. A parliamentary study in 2010 also revealed the taking of 1,357 houses (affecting ca. 6,785 persons) and 63 government properties by similar means in Aden alone. However, sources do not record the number of affected persons entitled to reparation.

In none of these country cases has any party undertaken an inventory of the housing, lands and property subject to restitution. While earlier efforts within the UN tried to restore—or at least assess—those values and restitution rights of 1948 Palestine refugees, the reparations bill has yet to be paid. Nonetheless, a calculation for the land of Palestine subject to eventual restitution is calculated by Israel’s own official claim that it has acquired 93% of the land area 2,077,000 ha, or 1,931,610 ha, mostly from Palestine refugees and other indigenous tenure holders, in addition to at least 39% of the 6,220 km2 (622,000 ha) in the oPt controlled by settler colonies ≥ 242,5800 ha.

In Western Sahara, the standard measure of the land occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco is 80% of the total 26,600,000 ha land area, or 21,280,000 ha. The land area, the resources it contains, as well as the resources of the country’s territorial waters under current foreign administration are, thus, subject to restitution to Sahrawi people individually or collectively. 

As for the individual holders of the right to reparation, including HLP restitution, they add up as follows:



Persons Eligible for Reparations





IDP households since 2003


Displaced Marsh Arabs






Dispossessed under Law No. 4


Displaced since 2011




Refugees outside Palestine


IDPs in Israel


Naqab displaced since 1951


Occupied West Bank




Darfur refugees in Chad


IDPs in Darfur


White Nile and Blue Nile IDPs


Refugees in South Sudan


Refugees in CAR


Refugees in Ethiopia


Refugees in Egypt




Western Sahara


Tindouf-area refugees


Refugees elsewhere


IDPs/dispossessed in occupied territory




War displaced


Refugees in other countries


Dispossessed under Salih regime


Residents of confiscated homes (Aden)


Total MENA:



Photo on front page: Home destroyed in Israeli attack on Gaza, 2009. Source: Kai Wiedenhöfer. Photos on this page: Composite of a scene from a Palestinian refugee camp, Jordan (1969), and exodus of Yazidis fleeing attack by ISIL, Sindbar, Iraq (2017).


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