Tuesday, July 16, 2013

UNRWA and the Syrian crisis

In an article published in the Sunday Jerusalem Post Features section, entitled "UNRWA's limited aid focus in Syria and its consequences" ( http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/UNRWAs-limited-aid-focus-in-Syria-and-its-consequences-319729 ) Leviah Landau, a researcher for Near East Policy Research in Jerusalem, points out several startling facts. First, almost half of all Palestinian "refugees" in Syria have been diplaced by the civil war going on there, that has so far taken the lives of ca. 100,000 people. According to UNRWA statistics 235,000 have been displaced out of a total of 499,189 registered Palestinian "refugees." However, of these most were born in Syria but have not been given Syrian citizenship, so when they are displaced this means that they cannot be treated as other Syrian refugees and are often returned to Syria, to camps that have become battlefields.

Also, according to UNRWA statistics they have received a budget in the past 6 months of ca. m$75 to accomodate the needs of these Syrian Palestinian refugees, equalling ca $300 per refugee. All other refugees (Syrian citizens) are being cared for by the UNHCR that deals with all other refugees in the world (except Palestinians), that according to the international definition means people displaced from their country of origin, not including their descendents. Since the UNHCR also received about the same amount of funds, but to deal with 1.25 million displaced persons, that comes to ca. $60 per refugee. But, whereas UNHCR seeks to resettle the Syrian refugees elsewhere (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan), this is forbidden to UNRWA, since under its charter the Palestinian refugees must not be settled anywhere, but must remain in refugee camps. So the Palestinians are either returned to Syria, or if that is impossible they are settled in other Palestinian refugee camps, for example in Lebanon or Jordan, but that is resisted by those countries.

The author points out that following the Iraq war, when Palestinian "refugees" were expelled from their camps and also from Iraq by Government forces because they had supported Saddam Hussein, there was an emergency need to re-settle them elsewhere. Accordingly in 2009, ca. 1,000 such refugees were re-settled around the world, in Chile, Australia, Europe and another 1,350 were resettled in the US. So it can be done. The author points out that now is a perfect time to think about the long term interests of these unfortunate Syrian Palestinians and to try to re-settle them elsewhere in third countries. Certainly UNRWA has the funds to do this, but according to its charter and according to the wishes of other Arab countries, it will not do this. These Palestinians will remain displaced persons (although technically not refugees) to perpetuate the Israel-Arab conflict and their long-term interests will not even be considered.


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