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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

UNRWA keeps lying

UNRWA's Chris Gunness tries to defend the indefensible in a YNet op-ed:

All refugee communities, whether those under the care of UNRWA or UNHCR, have their refugee status passed through the generations while their plight remains unresolved. Refugees in Kenya administered by UNHCR are a good example. In this regard, the accusation that UNRWA uniquely perpetuates the Palestine refugee problem is ignorant of international refugee law and practice.
I cannot find any UNHCR documentation on the status of children born to real refugees, so I cannot address that specifically. However, UNRWA's definition of refugee is far removed from the definition that the UN established and uses today for all other cases.

The UN defines a refugee as someone who
owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his [or her] nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him [or her]self of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his [or her] former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

UNRWA's definition is completely different:
...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."

Palestine refugees are persons who fulfil the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.
There is nothing in the UN definition that explicitly includes children the way UNRWA does, even if in some limited circumstances they do so.

But there is a much more important difference. The 1951 Convention on Refugees  has exacting and specific criteria on how someone can end his or her refugee status:

(1) He [or she] has voluntarily re-availed himself of the protection of the country of his [or her] nationality;
(2) Having lost his nationality, he [or she] has voluntarily reacquired it; or
(3) He [or she] has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his [or her] new nationality; or
(4) He [or she] has voluntarily re-established himself in the country which he [or she] left or outside which he [or she] remained owing to fear of persecution.”

UNRWA has no definition on how a person can lose their "refugee" status. If they leave the areas of UNRWA operations, they cannot avail themselves of UNRWA services, but they still define them as refugees forever.

By any definition, including the UN's, Palestinian Arabs who received Jordanian citizenship should no longer be considered refugees, and the camps in Jordan should have been demolished long ago.

By any definition, Palestinian Arabs who live in the territories are not refugees. They are in what was Palestine! The worst you can say is that they are displaced persons, which again makes no sense for anyone born after 1948.

There is an additional difference. UNHCR works diligently to resettle or repatriate refugees so they no longer require UN services. UNRWA, on the other hand, works diligently to prolong people's refugee status so UNRWA can stay in business.

This is why UNHCR has reduced the numbers of refugees in its purview most years of its existence, and UNRWA's refugee rolls have ballooned.

Gunness writes:
On the question of resettling refugees, all internationally accepted paradigms for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict envisage the refugee question being resolved in the context of a just and durable solution, based on UN resolutions and international law, agreed by the parties and in consultation with the refugees. It is the failure of the parties to reach such an agreement that is perpetuating the refugee crisis.

Yet in the earliest UNRWA reports, the organization - and the UN - actively desired to resettle or repatriate refugees:
65. The General Assembly at its fifth session, recognizing that direct relief could not be terminated as envisaged in its resolution 302 (IV), authorized the Agency, by resolution 393 (V), to continue to furnish such relief for the period 1 July 1951 to 30 June 1952, and considered that "the reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement, is essential for the time when international assistance is no longer available and for the realization of conditions of peace and stability in in the area".

Gunness gets it exactly backwards. Gunness is saying that a resolution of the refugee problem depends on the peace process. His forebears in the UN, however, correctly noted that peace depends on solving the refugee problem!

This was the UN's original mandate for UNRWA, albeit implicit. And this shows how UNRWA has turned from a pro-active agency dedicated to truly reducing the number of refugees into a huge bureaucracy dedicated to maintaining the status quo - and making it worse.

There is only one country where the number of UNRWA refugees - tens of thousands of them - was successfully reduced, and in fact eliminated. That country is Israel, and the refugees have been equal citizens for six decades.

A neutral UN human development and humanitarian agency whose work promotes universal values in the Middle East cannot be blamed.
Oh, yes it can be. UNRWA used to try to work with Arab countries to integrate refugees into their societies. It used to create works programs with the aim of making the refugees self-sufficient. Now it does nothing to reduce the descendants of the refugees' dependency on aid.

If UNRWA wanted to do something positive, it would immediately leave the Jordanian camps and tell the government of Jordan that they are responsible for their own citizens' well-being. (There is the exception of the Jerash Gaza camp, where the residents should be allowed to move back to their homes in Gaza!)

The UNRWA should also transfer all of its budget for Gaza and the West Bank to the PA, and tell Mahmoud Abbas that he is responsible for the welfare of his own citizens.

And in Lebanon, UNRWA can keep its neutrality while insisting that Palestinian Arabs there be treated with equal rights, publicly pressuring Lebanon to ease its onerous restrictions that they place uniquely on Palestinian Arabs. As it is, UNRWA's supposed "neutrality" allows it to blame Israel for numerous perceived injustices but it does not have a negative word towards any Arab regime, even as Jordan strips citizenship from its Palestinian population.

Gunness is a hypocrite and a liar, and UNRWA as it exists today must be dismantled to bring it more in line with how a refugee aid organization is supposed to work.