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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

UNRWA's self-serving agenda (MEF)

An important article from The Middle East Forum. Excerpts:
Of the three durable solution strategies employed by UNHCR—repatriation, local integration, and resettlement—protracted situations tend to be those in which repatriation is unfeasible, whether due to a continuing conflict within the prospective country of repatriation or to the demographic implications repatriation would entail.

Given UNHCR's successful implementation of local integration within diverse refugee settings over the course of several decades, on the one hand, and the overwhelming opposition in Israel to a large-scale migration of Palestinians to the country, on the other, local integration seems the best option. The alternatives, including continued suspension of durable solutions by UNRWA until the signing of a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will make such an agreement progressively more difficult to achieve and, most importantly, will deprive UNRWA's beneficiaries of their right to become fully integrated and active citizens within the societies in which they now live.

But is local integration consistent with UNRWA's mandate? There are two levels on which to examine the question: procedural and substantive. For both, a strong case can be made that the agency is free to promote local integration if the commissioner-general chooses to do so.

As is true of most U.N. organs, the General Assembly resolutions pertinent to UNRWA are the primary source for determining the agency's mandate.[3] Yet specific activities need not be explicitly cited within such resolutions in order to be considered a legitimate domain of activity for an agency.

This conclusion was elaborated by none other than Lance Bartholomeusz, chief of UNRWA's International Law Division, who stated that the agency's actions themselves, simply by having been carried out—provided they are consistent with one or more of the U.N.'s goals—have a measure of legitimacy and essentially serve to define the agency's mandate. Furthermore, UNRWA considers the discretion of its commissioner-general, in consultation with the Advisory Commission, the ultimate arbiter of what its mandate entails: "The Assembly has provided UNRWA with a flexible mandate designed to facilitate, rather than restrict, the agency's ability to act as and when the Commissioner-General, in consultation with the Advisory Commission as appropriate, sees fit."[4]

The fact that a policy is not currently implemented by UNRWA cannot in itself serve as grounds for regarding it as outside the agency's mandate as noted by Bartholomeusz: "The Agency's mandate and its actual activities are distinct: UNRWA's actual activities at a given time are a subset of the activities within its mandate."[5]

This means that incorporation by UNRWA of lasting solutions, such as local integration or resettlement, would not necessarily require an explicit alteration in any of the pertinent General Assembly resolutions. If the commissioner-general were to decide on such activities, this would seem to suffice from a procedural perspective.

While Bartholomeusz argues that UNRWA "does not have a mandate as such to seek durable solutions for Palestine refugees," this assertion is belied by his own acknowledgment that "in its early years, it had a mandate to engage in activities that promoted the integration of refugees into their host country."

...Local integration is, thus, ultimately geared toward naturalization and is clearly consistent with a human development agenda, especially in relation to refugee matters. It is difficult to see how UNRWA's avowed commitment to ensuring that its beneficiaries "enjoy human rights to the fullest extent possible" can be interpreted other than entailing a willingness to at least make some efforts to promote Palestinian refugees' local integration in their current places of residence. The fact that the agency looks favorably upon the attainment of citizenship by most of its beneficiaries in Jordan suggests a tacit acceptance of the fact that a measure of local integration is indeed consistent with its mandate. Yet, the agency refrains from reaching the logical conclusion that naturalized individuals should no longer be considered refugees.
The fact that UNRWA did indeed work to integrate Palestinian Arab refugees into their host countries in the 1950s is no longer mentioned by UNRWA - but there is no reason why it cannot do it to help hundreds of thousands of people. Today.

The reason why it doesn't, which the article doesn't address, is twofold: UNRWA is mostly run by Palestinian Arabs who don't want to jeopardize their jobs by solving the problem that the agency is supposed to help with, and UNRWA is indeed a political organization which has been pushing the idea of "return" and teaching it to generations of children itself.

I discussed this in some detail at the end of this post. I'l repeat it here:


UNRWA did in fact work towards resettling refugees, not just giving them aid. The W or UNRWA stands for "Works" and UNRWA's mandate was to create works programs so that refugees could support themselves and (implicitly) eventually integrate into their host countries. While it was not explicit in its mandate, the words "resettlement" were used often in early UN resolutions and documents regarding the refugees. 


For example, UNGA Resolution 393 from 1950, entitled "Assistance to Palestine Refugees":

The General Assembly,
Recalling its resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949,
Having examined the report 2of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and the report 3of the Secretary-General concerning United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees,

4. Considers 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, isessential 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;
5. Instructs 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;

All this was obvious in early UN documents. Only at the end of the 1950s did UNRWA give up on the idea of re-integration and turn itself into a wholly anti-Israel organization. UNRWA teachers taught generations of Palestinian Arabs that "return" was the only acceptable option. This was documented in a monograph that noted that in Lebanon in the late 1950s:
Children in the physical education classes at the UNRWA schools exercised to the chant of a-w-d-a (return)
A UNRWA principal in 1961 described his school's curriculum to journalist Martha Gellhorn:
In our school, we teach the children from their first year about their country and how it was stolen from them. I tell my son of seven. You will see: one day a man of eighty and a child so high, all, all will go home with arms in their hands and take back their country by force.

The difference between UNRWA in 1950 and in 1960 is astonishing, and deserves its own study. But what was once a well-meaning refugee agency that did try to solve the refugee problem - including through resettlement - turned in only a few years into a hateful, inciting and bloated bureaucracy whose only purpose was to perpetuate and increase the refugee problem in perpetuity.