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Friday, June 25, 2010

UNRWA annual report, 1952: The first signs of failure

As UNRWA passed its third year, it was starting to notice that the refugees were not quite cooperating with what UNRWA was trying to accomplish, and neither were their hosts:

13. Although they have been sheltered in their host countries, and in the notable instance of Jordan have been offered full citizenship, the refugees are people apart, lacking, for the most part, status, homes, land, assets, proper clothing and means of livelihood. Many cling to their only evidence of nationality--a worn, dogeared Palestine passport issued in Mandate days by a government that no longer legally exists. In Lebanon they cannot be issued working permits and by law cannot hold jobs; in Egypt, they cannot receive Agency relief and assistance unless they are physically located in the 5 by 25 mile Gaza strip; in Syria, although they are permitted to work when they can find jobs, they have not been offered citizenship...

Even though at this point UNRWA was still committed to reducing the numbers of refugees on its rolls, the Palestinian Arabs were not keen on losing their free services - and their host governments weren't, either:


16. The Agency has unceasingly endeavoured to limit the granting of relief only to those recipients who genuinely need it. Its field teams constantly investigate ration entitlement so as to eliminate forged ration cards and duplicate registrations, and to remove from ration rolls those fortunate individuals who have managed to obtain an income which approximates the average for the local inhabitant. Efforts along these lines have been frustrating and only moderately successful. The difficulty of obtaining accurate figures of income, when desperate measures are taken to conceal the income, is particularly unfortunate, so that the Agency's attempt to apply throughout its area of operations an "income scale" designed to eliminate from ration rolls refugees whose cash income, usually by reason of employment, is considered adequate to enable the refugee to be self-supporting has not been very effective. In addition, in Syria, Jordan and Gaza, the agreement of the government must be obtained to the removal of ration recipients for reason of income, but in these countries, due to government insistence, such a high scale has been established that seldom does removal for this reason occur. Indeed, there are numerous instances of fulltime government employees remaining on ration rolls because of the high "income scale". With sharply declining funds for relief, the Agency at the end of the year was making new plans for concentrating its limited resources on the most needy.
UNRWA at this point was still trying to find decent jobs for the refugees, but the welfare mentality was starting to strengthen:
26. The existence of vast numbers of able-bodied individuals who for four years have looked to the United Nations for the provision of all their basic needs--medical and health care, education, shelter, clothing and food--is a social and economic blight of incalculable dimensions.
And UNRWA also started to realize that its relief programs were having an adverse effect on the surrounding population, as Palestinian Arabs on the dole could afford to work for little money. In fact, they had incentive to work for low wages, because if it was found out that they were doing well they would risk losing free food, medicine and schooling for their kids:
27. The need for aggressive steps to be taken to terminate relief operations is not only emphasized by the psychologically debilitating effect of giving relief over long periods of time, with the consequent development of a professional refugee mentality, but also by the crushing economic burden--apart from the cost of the care of the individual, which the presence of the refugees has placed upon the host countries. In the absence of advanced plans for economic development, the presence of refugees has in many instances and in many areas glutted the labour market, thus depressing wages. With the assurance that his basic need for food and shelter will be met by the international community at no cost to himself, the refugee suffers less from the prevailing low wages for casual work than his indigenous neighbour. In Lebanon, despite the ban on refugee employment, much of the seasonal work in the fields is done by refugees, who are able to work for exceptionally low wages. In Jordan, the average wage level has fallen markedly in recent years, due to the presence of the refugees, who are there in such numbers that every third person in the entire country is an Agency ration recipient. In Egypt, where cultivable areas are overcrowded by Egypt's own nationals, the presence of 200,000 refugees in the Gaza strip has forced the Government not only to contribute heavily to the relief of the refugees, but also to provide relief to the non-refugee Gaza population of 80,000 who are in an even worse economic position than the refugees. Thus, in all countries where the refugees are concentrated, a heavy primary and secondary economic burden is placed upon the economy despite the fact that the basic costs of refugee care are met by the contributing governments.
No wonder the refugees would cheat to stay on the dole - they didn't want to end up as badly off as their non-refugee neighbors!

Meanwhile, UNRWA phased out its most "successful" works programs, again because they were being taken advantage of by the host countries. It's biggest success was a massive failure.

32. During the Agency's first year, work relief projects were vigorously planned and pushed forward by the Agency. Governments and refugees viewed the projects with suspicion, feared resettlement implications, and were slow in acceptance. Finally, a start was made because refugees wanted wages and governments wanted public works. At the peak of employment on those works programmes, more than 12,000 refugees were employed. As governments and refugees discovered advantages in the programme the Agency began to see liabilities. Local governments contributed no funds; the full burden of wages fell on the Agency; the cost was five times that of simple relief. The approved projects were typically roads and public structures, and when they were finished the refugees returned to tents and ration lines. In short the Agency found itself financing and operating labour camps to build public works which the governments themselves would have built the following year. There was no enduring benefit for the refugee nor financial relief for the Agency, and the programme was gradually brought to a conclusion as funds ran out.
So, UNRWA started a "new programme" that tried to eliminate the shortfalls of its earlier works program:

46. The objective is to be accomplished through the following activities:

(1) Helping refugees find employment where there is need for their services;
(2) Training refugees for occupations where there is a shortage of trained workers;
(3) Making loans or grants to refugees to enable them to establish small enterprises to improve their economic position;
(4) Building houses in or near urban areas where employment is available;
(5) Establishing rural villages in areas where land is available for cultivation;
(6) Developing agricultural lands through well drilling, irrigation works, access roads and similar activities;
(7) Generally, financing economic development and providing technical assistance where there are assurances of proportionate benefit to refugees.
The Arab countries looked upon this program as an opportunity for more free money without any commitment whatsoever to permanently improve the lives of the refugees, and they agreed to this new program.

Also in 1952, some refugees moved to Iraq, and Libya expressed interest in taking some of the highly-skilled workers.


UNRWA remained cautiously optimistic in this report, but made sure that they would assure the Arab countries that they would not pressure them to do anything they were not comfortable with:

78. (3) The Agency operates with the deepest respect for the sovereignties of the governments of the area. Through its trusteeship of large contributions, and with the acquiescence of governments, the Agency has present responsibilities which it is endeavouring to discharge with the help of a small international staff and thousands of Palestinians. The Agency is looking forward to, and preparing for, the day when it may transfer this responsibility. Meanwhile, there is much that can be done by governments to smooth the way for assistance to refugees. Privileges and immunities are not aims in themselves, nor challenges to sovereignty, but rather facilitating arrangements of benefit to refugees.