Tuesday, November 13, 2012

UNRWA's refusal to properly help the Palestinian Arabs

Recently, the Commissioner General of UNRWA Filippo Grandi gave an impassioned speech to a UN subcommittee about the plight of Palestinian Arab "refugees" and how important UNRWA is and how it needs more money.

Buried within the speech, Grandi grudgingly admits that Arab nations discriminate against Syrian refugees of Palestinian origin. Notice how he is reluctant both to explicitly describe what the Arab countries are doing and to actually criticize the Arab nations for effectively throwing Palestinian brethren under the bus:

Under the Regional Response Plan, UNRWA is also asking for US$ 10 million to assist Palestine refugees from Syria fleeing to Jordan and Lebanon – currently numbering 1600 and 8000, respectively. Their situation - difficult, like that of other refugees fleeing Syria - adds to the tensions and complexities created by the pre-existing presence of large Palestine refugee communities in those countries. In spite of the relatively small number of Palestine refugees that have left Syria, their plight sadly confirms our view that - no matter how long they have lived in host countries and how hospitably they have been treated - they remain extremely vulnerable and exposed to the shocks of crises, given the centrality and sensitivity of the Palestinian question in the regional context.

We fully appreciate that countries neighbouring Syria have assumed once again a large burden in receiving - with limited international assistance - a huge influx of Syrian refugees. I would like to stress that Palestine refugees leaving Syria for temporary protection are fleeing the same grave risks and dangers as other refugees. Unfortunately, UNRWA has received information of a number of Palestinians being denied that protection. I would like to appeal once more to neighbouring countries to apply humanitarian criteria in considering these cases, not to distinguish between different categories of refugees, and to avoid any refoulement and deportation until the conflict in Syria has been resolved.
What he is saying is that Jordan and Lebanon, while accepting most Syrian refugees, are often sending Palestinian Arabs back to Syria to face an uncertain future or death. What he doesn't say is that many more would undoubtedly be fleeing if they knew that they would be protected - but Jordan and Lebanon aren't protecting them. (Chances are that Iraq isn't either.)

But Grandi doesn't say this explicitly. He uses the most passive voice possible so as not to antagonize the Arab nations who have been screwing the people he is sworn to protect.

Isn't it time to try a different angle?

Specifically, UNRWA needs to go back to its original mandate of integrating Palestinian Arabs into their host countries.

I just looked a little further at a document (referred to here) written by Lance Bartholomeusz, Chief, International Law Division, Department of Legal Affairs at UNRWA for UNRWA's 60th anniversary in 2010. It is really amazing, because it admits that UNRWA did have a mandate to resettle refugees - and somehow gave it up.

Here is what he wrote about that mandate:
More formally, the Agency has a mandate to consult with relevant governments about transitional arrangements in case of a durable solution. This part of the mandate is derived from a broader mandate existing since the Agency’s establishment:
To consult with the interested Near Eastern Governments concerning measures to be taken by them preparatory to the time when international assistance for relief and works projects is no longer available.[83]
UNRWA nevertheless does not have a mandate as such to seek durable solutions for Palestine refugees, although in its early years it had a mandate to engage in activities that promoted the integration of refugees into their host country.[84]
Footnote 84:
As to UNRWA’s mandate to engage in activities to promote reintegration, see UNGA res. 393 (V) of 2 Dec. 1950 where the General Assembly “Instruct[ed] the Agency to establish a reintegration fund which shall be utilized for projects requested by any government in the Near East and approved by the Agency for the permanent re-establishment of refugees and their removal from relief” (para. 5) after "Consider[ing] that, without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, the reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement, is essential in preparation for the time when international assistance is no longer available, and for the realization of conditions of peace and stability in the area” (para. 4). This part of the mandate probably ended by 1960 when reference to “reintegration” was dropped from General Assembly resolutions relating to UNRWA, reflecting some acknowledgment that this objective had been defeated: see W. Dale, “UNRWA – A Subsidiary Organ of the UN”, op. cit., 584–5.
In other words, UNRWA's mandate never formally changed, but the UN stopped referring to it - hence a bizarre idea that it "probably" changed.

Even that formulation by Lance Bartholomeusz that UNRWA's mandate changed in 1960 is belied by the language of subsequent UNGA resolutions on UNRWA - as late as 1992:

The General Assembly...Notes with deep regret that ... no substantial progress has been made in the programme endorsed in paragraph 2 of resolution 513 (VI) for the reintegration of refugees either by repatriation or resettlement and that, therefore, the situation of the refugees continues to be a matter of serious concern...

It doesn't make sense to note this "with deep regret" unless resettlement is an actual stated goal of the UN, and UNRWA is the only agency that was ever tasked to do that.

It does not appear that UNRWA's mandate was ever formally changed away from resettlement. UNRWA just gave up. (And someone at the UNGA silently removed the language that was associated with the annual UNRWA resolution for every year in 1993, but no one noticed that the UN did that. Even so, the annual UN resolution is not the basis for UNRWA's mandate.)

Moreover, if Bartholomeusz's contention that the mandate changed because Arab nations "defeated" it by refusing to integrate Palestinian Arabs into their midst after a mere ten years, then why can't Israel's refusal to accept the "return" of millions of descendants of these refugees for over sixty years end the UN's insistence of "return"? Apparently, intransigence by Arabs can change a UN agency mandate, but not Israel's insistence not to be destroyed by a fictional "right to return."

An intriguing note in UNRWA's 1973 annual report also notes that the mandate of UNWRA is pretty much whatever UNRWA says it is in the absence of UNGA guidance:
It is against this background of General Assembly resolutions that UNRWA must carry out its mandate, with little specific guidance from the resolutions conferring that mandate, which, in effect, has come to consist of maintaining, to the extent UNRWA's resources permit, the programmes it has gradually developed over the years.
So UNRWA even admits that it makes things up as it goes along. But the corollary is that it is UNRWA that gave up on resettlement and then blamed the UN, not the UN itself instructing UNRWA.

In the end, UNRWA is not serving the international community nor is it doing what is best for Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, UNRWA has no provision for "refugees" to lose that status - even if they become citizens elsewhere.

Despite Grandi's supposed passion, he isn't willing to stick his neck out to shame Arab nations into doing what they do with every other Arab refugee. he is not willing to explicitly condemn Arabs for their role in perpetuating the misery of Palestinian Arabs. And he is not willing to work towards a lasting solution to the problem.

(h/t Challah for research help)