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Sunday, June 20, 2010

UNHCR succeeds where UNRWA fails

From AFP:
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief Antonio Guterres announced on Friday the body has referred 100,000 Iraqi refugees in the Middle East for resettlement in third countries since 2007.

"100,000 submissions of Iraqi refugees is a tremendous achievement. Many have been living in limbo for years," he said at the start of a three-day visit to Syria, which says it hosts one million refugees, mostly from Iraq.

Of the 100,000 submissions of Iraqi refugees over the past three years, 52,173 people left the Middle East up to May 2010, the UNHCR said in a statement. In 2007, 3,500 Iraqis departed for third countries from the region.

"Lengthy security checks and the time it has taken for state processing mechanisms to be established have led to considerable delays in the departure of refugees to their new homes," it said.

Guterres called on countries "to facilitate the speedy departure of refugees they have accepted for resettlement."

The acceptance rate by resettlement countries of UNHCR?s referrals now stands at 80 percent, of which nearly 76 percent have been accepted by the United States, the UNHCR said.

The UN agency said that around 1.8 million Iraqis are currently seeking refuge in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.
The UNHCR is working tirelessly to resettle these Arab refugees, and even though the going is slow, they are making progress. Tens of thousands of the refugees are being resettled in Syria, which is now hosting about one million of them.

The UNHCR managed to resettle 100,000 refugees in three years with an annual budget of about $80 million. (Correction: this seems to be wrong; the UNHCR budget is actually between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, from its website. -EoZ) And they are not exclusively concerned with Iraqi refugees - they are responsible for every refugee worldwide who is not considered "Palestinian."

Compare this to UNRWA, an agency dedicated to a single class of "refugees" - the Palestinian Arabs. UNRWA has not even attempted to resettle Palestinian Arab "refugees" (really, descendants of refugees) since the 1950s. Their annual budget, which is exclusively used to perpetuate the Palestinian Arab "refugee" problem, $1.2 billion dollars. Yes, the annual budget to keep Palestinian Arabs in camps is roughly the same that the UN grants the other refugee organization, UNHCR, from spending on the entire rest of the world's refugees combined.

Imagine what would happen if the UNHCR took over the UNRWA's  budget and the responsibility for Palestinian Arabs!

Here is a study of contrasts of the needs of the different populations.

From the UNHCR website:

Refugees complained during lunch with the High Commissioner of extremely harsh conditions in the desert. Al Hassakeh has suffered from a drought during the past four years. In addition to the shortage of water, refugees said they could not sleep at night for fear of being bitten by deadly scorpions and poisonous snakes.

At the exact same time UNRWA's Gaza "refugees" are complaining about the high fees of renting beach houses on the Mediterranean for their families to vacation.

The only thing they have in common is...sand.

It seems that there is a bit of a problem with how the UN is prioritizing the budgets of its agencies. Maybe it is past the time to fix this problem.