Thursday, August 14, 2008

Those Jordanian "refugees"

Reuters decided to send this picture out over the wires:
A young Palestinian refugee walks near her school wall at al-Baqaa Refugees camp, outside of Amman, May 15, 2008. The graffiti reads 'I will not stay as a refugee forever'.(Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)
We have discussed many times in the past how the definition of "refugee" is completely different for Palestinian Arabs than for any other group in the world, and how UNRWA operationally defines the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to be refugees themselves forever. This misuse of the word is so ingrained that wire services routinely refer to anyone with Palestinian Arab ancestry as "refugees."

What about American or Canadian citizens of PalArab origin? Are they "refugees" too? Of course not, because they have a nationality. Everyone recognizes inherently that those who gain citizenship in another country are no longer refugees - they are immigrants. (UNRWA's definition is operational, purely for the purpose of deciding who it should help; the rest of the world adapted that as a real definition for Palestinian Arabs alone.)

Jordan gave citizenship status to Palestinian Arab refugees when Jordan annexed the West Bank. According to this 1997 study, 95% of the Palestinian "refugees and displaced" who live in Jordan today are Jordanian citizens. Some 13% of Jordanian "Palestinian refugees" still live in "refugee camps" even though they don't have to - unlike those in Lebanon, Jordanian PalArabs have every right to move to real houses or apartments elsewhere in Jordan. They choose not to leave because they are getting free housing, schooling and medical care from UNRWA. The less-lazy majority got jobs, moved out of the camps, bought houses and became more self-sufficient.

So it is more than a bit ironic that some young Palestinian Arab graffiti artist who lives in a "refugee" camp, who is not a real refugee by any reasonable definition, and who could choose to leave the camp and raise a family in honor if he would just decide to get a job, would say that he "will not stay as a refugee forever." He in fact chooses to be considered a "refugee" and to live off the largesse of the UN - and to bitterly blame the rest of the world for his choice.