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Monday, June 27, 2011

UNRWA continues to defend the indefensible

In Ma'an, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness continues to whitewash UNRWA's unconscionable role in perpetuating the so-called refugee problem. But if you read between the lines, you can see where he is dancing:

He tries to pretend that UNRWA and UNHCR treat refugee problems similarly by quoting UNHCR documents:
Established principles and practice – as well as realities on the ground - clearly refute the argument that the right of return of Palestine refugees would disappear or be abandoned if UNHCR were responsible for these refugees.

Over decades of international practice, refugee situations have been resolved in three principal ways: local integration, resettlement in third countries and voluntary repatriation. Of these, the voluntary return of refugees to their country of origin has come to be recognized by refugees, states and international agencies as the optimal solution to the plight of refugees.

It is equally recognized that for refugees everywhere, a precondition for solutions to refugee situations is the resolution by political actors of the underlying causes of dispute and conflict.

This point is made in the 2008 UNHCR document, Protracted Refugee Situations: A discussion paper prepared for the High Commissioner’s dialogue on Protection Challenges. Paragraph 7 of the document observes that "Protracted refugee situations are usually created and sustained by the failure to resolve … differences in a peaceful manner and in a way that respects human rights."

...
Conclusion 4 of the report to UNHCR’s Executive Committee of 2005, on Local Integration states "Voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement are the traditional durable solutions and […] all remain viable and important responses to refugee situations;" "voluntary repatriation, in safety and dignity, where and when feasible, remains the most preferred solution in the majority of refugee situations;" a combination of solutions, taking into account the specific circumstances of each refugee situation, can help achieving long lasting solutions."
Al of this is true. However, UNRWA is dedicated to only the first solution of repatriation - a "solution" that is no closer today than it has been for 63 years. It is obvious that Israel will not commit voluntary suicide by allowing millions of descendants of refugees to immigrate to the country, and it is equally obvious that Israel is not "Palestine" which is the area that they left. However, UNRWA does not even make an attempt to implement the only two realistic solutions, those of local integration and resettlement.

Ma'an should have asked him, given that the first solution is not viable, what is UNRWA doing to help bring about the other two solutions?

[R]efugee families everywhere retain their status as refugees until they fall within the terms of a cessation clause or are able to avail themselves of one of three durable solutions already mentioned -- voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement in a third country.
UNHCR has detailed cessation clauses - ways for refugees to lose their status. UNRWA does not, as far as I could tell in reading their materials. Ma'an should have followed up by asking that question.

Another question they didn't even ask was about the completely different definitions of refugees between UNRWA and UNHCR.

The UNRWA definition is "any person whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the
period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." UNHCR's definition is "any person who is outside their country of origin and unable or unwilling to return there or to avail themselves of its protection, on account of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion."

The differences in definitions means that even those Palestinian Arabs who live within Mandate Palestine are still considered "refugees!" Even Palestinian Arabs who have citizenship in other countries like Jordan are considered "refugees!" These two categories comprise some 80% of UNRWA's so-called "refugee" population, and combined with the lack of UNRWA cessation clauses mean  that, by definition, UNRWA "refugees" cannot lose their status!

Those are the issues that Ma'an should have asked Gunness, rather than allowing him to dance around by selectively quoting UNHCR documents.