Monday, December 08, 2014

  • Monday, December 08, 2014
  • Elder of Ziyon
Melanie Phillips has an audio interview with Chris Gunness of UNRWA on Voice of Israel where Gunness spouts his usual disinformation.

His first point is that UNRWA's considering generations of people to be "refugees" is completely consistent with what the UNHCR does. When Melanie pushes back, and says that according to that definition, since her grandparents were refugees from Poland and Russia, she should be considered a refugee as well, to which Gunness replies that she is presumably a British citizen and therefore she cannot be considered a refugee.

But, Phillips pushes him to admit, there are nearly 2 million Palestinian "refugees" by the UNRWA definition who are full citizens of Jordan, so he is contradicting himself. Gunness' answer is to change the subject and say that that UNRWA's mandate comes from the General Assembly and that is where the UNRWA definition of "refugee" comes from.

This is a lie.

UNGA 302, which created UNRWA and from which UNRWA gets its mandate, did not define what a "refugee" is.

UNRWA needed to make up a working definition of "refugee" in 1950 in order to determine who should get its services and who should not. That definition is not from the General Assembly, but from UNRWA itself. The original definition was  "For working purposes, the Agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood."

UNRWA decided on who is a refugee - not the UN.

UNRWA changed that definition over time, including  around 1965 to accommodate children and grandchildren through the male line, and at a later date to make it all descendants.

So when Gunness says that this was a UN General Assembly decision, he is not telling the truth. Even UNRWA's current documents admit "UNRWA’s Palestine Refugee criteria are formulated for the Agency’s operational purposes."

Two other points about how UNRWA's definition of "refugee" is much different from that of UNHCR. For one thing, UNRWA allows "refugees" to live in the area they were born in; UNHCR calls them "internally displaced persons" and the rules for those people are quite different.  No one living in the West Bank or Gaza would be considered a refugee by UNHCR's definition. 

Secondly, and most importantly, the UNHCR has very specific ways for refugees to exit their refugee status. UNRWA allows only two ways: for the "refugee" to die or for it to be proven that the "refugee" doesn't exist because of fraud. As it says in UNRWA's current Consolidated Eligibility and Registration Instructions (CERI):

The names of registered persons may be removed from UNRWA’s Registration System in the following circumstances:

1. Upon the death of a Registered Person...
2. Names of persons or families who have been falsely registered or whose registration has been duplicated shall be removed from the Registration System.

This has not always been the case. In the 1950s, UNRWA went to some effort to remove people from its rolls when they gained enough self-sufficiency to be able to live without UNRWA services, as one can see from their annual reports, when they used to list the (relatively small) number of people they managed to remove from their rolls because they had jobs that made too much money. Indeed, refugees in the 1950s would refuse to work or hide their jobs,  because they didn't want to lose their UNRWA benefits as registered refugees.

Note the definition above from 1950: "a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood."

Compare that to today's definition: "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, and descendants of such persons, including legally adopted children, through the male line. "

Note what is missing: UNRWA no longer has a criterion of "needy." It changed its definition from "needy person" to "any person."

So it is nonsense for Gunness to claim that UNRWA has no power to define who is or who is not a refugee. UNRWA is the organization that made up these definitions to begin with, not the General Assembly.

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