Paper presented to a political forum on the anniversary of the establishment of (UNRWA) organized by the Association Al Tawasul Forum - the project of right of return - in Gaza on Thursday (8/12/2011), and so entitled as «the international protection for Palestinian refugees by (UNRWA) and the Commission».
The role of (UNRWA) to protect refugees:
1. A reading in the decision of establishing the (UNRWA).
The displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip under Egyptian administration) created a new situation drew the attention of the major concerned countries - at the time - to the region and the conflict in it, in the forefront of these countries was the United States and Britain. I have read American circles in the spread of thousands of displaced Palestinians in the streets of Arab cities without shelter or work, or sources of living, a political situation constitutes a fertile environment could open the door to two possibilities contrary to the U.S. policy in the region that was ready to inherit the British and French interests.
1- The first possibility to form a fertile environment for incitement against the policy of the West against the loyal Arab regimes to it, and held responsible for what the situation of the Palestinian had become,, and that opens the door for the penetration of the ideas of communism and Soviet influence at the expense of Western influence.
2 - second possibility is that will form fertile environment for incitement against the State of Israel and deepen the hostility about it, which would block the way to the draft to incorporate Israel into the region's countries for the formulation of a new situation which will adapt to U.S. interests in the context of the Cold War with the Soviet Union circuit.
Therefore the relevant departments at the White House called the U.S. President to intervene immediately on two lines:
• First-line: to persuade Israel to return Palestinian refugees who are not less than one hundred thousand to Israel, which would open the door for the United States to impose on the Arab states in turn to settle the rest who remained in its territories.
• Second-line: to provide relief to Palestine refugees quickly, providing shelter and food for them, especially since the Arab countries hosting them are newly emerging countries, and have neither the expertise nor the economic capacity to absorb such large numbers of refugees on its territories.
The competition took place between the United States on one hand and Britain on the other hand to help the Palestinian refugees, and to push the international community, represented by the United Nations, to play its role in their relief and reducing the pain of migration and asylum for them. The United States for the reasons mentioned above, in an attempt to reach out to Arab public opinion, played a prominent role at the United Nations on behalf of the birth of the State of Israel at the expense of Arab rights and interests. And Britain, to restore its reputation on Arabs level after it played - as a mandate - a major role in supporting the Zionist project, and helped to create the conditions of its birth on the land of Palestine, and it reflected in a state which expanded over nearly three-quarters of the territory of the country.
The result of this competition the U.S. and British aids flooded to the places of refugee populations, also the United Nations adopted more than a project for their relief in the areas of their displacement, emphasizing that such moves only were driven by political backgrounds from the site of concern for the interests of American, British, and Israeli states, and not from the site of political or humanitarian solidarity with Palestinian refugees, without denying at the same time that some Arab and Islamic countries had contributed to the relief projects in solidarity with the Palestinians politically, and humanly.
Israel's refusal to allow about a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees (out of 700,800 thousand refugees) to return to their homes within the state, disrupted on the United States the draft of resettlement for those refugees who remained in the neighboring Arab countries, and created in the regional political equation a new element which is the issue of the Palestinian refugees who stood as an obstacle in the way of America and Israel to impose its vision of peace in the region, also formed the most prominent address the issue of the Palestinian cause, shortened by refugees in the suffering of their national cause, and the «returning» slogan became the motto of the Palestinian people and the symbol of their cause and their national rights.
It has become clear that there are groupings of the Palestinian refugees will live a long (and very long) in the neighboring Arab countries, which is supposed to provide a semi-permanent tool, with a dual function: working on one hand to provide relief to refugees, and the provision of factors of social stability in their places of asylum, and to work on the other hand to make factors aim to integrate them in the local community as a prelude to gradually resettle them in their new places of residence. So the United Nations established -according to the recommendation of the United States, Britain - the refugees' relief agency (UNRWA). (UNRWA) was born in the General Assembly of the United Nations on 8/12/1949 by the resolution number 302 / d 4. And it started its mission in the first day of May 1950.
(UNRWA) differs from other international organizations of the United Nations that it is a permanent organization, so its mandate is renewed every 3 years, and its survival depends on the remaining of the Palestinian refugee issue, and it being disassembled is to be subject to resolution of the issue of refugees also.
The funding has relied on donor countries, and not part of its budget from the general budget of the United Nations, as is the case with other international organizations such as UNICEF and UNESCO, FAO, WHO and others. We believe that (UNRWA) being a paramilitary organization temporary is to serve the refugee issue. Resolution 302 is known as the derivation of resolution 194, which judged in the return of refugees to their homes and their property. Therefore, the text of the resolution number 302 that does not constitute the establishment of (UNRWA), and performed its name to the legitimate rights of Palestinian refugees.
The look to the (UNRWA) differed according to the angle of view:
• The United States in particular and the West in general, looked to the agency as a tool to provide social stability factors for refugees, and reassure them that the international community has not abandoned them, in order to ease the political tension that was camping in their lives, They also considered it as a tool to ease the burden of relief for the Arab host countries, and to restrain any risk posed by these refugees on the political stability of these countries.
They also considered it as a tool to provide the necessary opportunities for the rehabilitation of refugees to integrate them in the community and resettlement in Arab host countries Therefore, the West countries were aware of the important role played by UNRWA in providing assistance in the factors of stability in the region, UN was keen to provide money to finance the agency annually. In turn the United States also played a significant role to bridge the financial deficit of UNRWA for its long life, since it began its work to the signing of the Oslo agreement.
• Arab host countries, also considered UNRWA as an expression of the international community recognizes its responsibility for damage to refugee tragedies and catastrophes Therefore these states gave the Relief Agency full responsibility for the refugee relief and rebuilding their shattered society, then the «genius Arabian inelegancies» came up with the idea of the "camp", as a geographical space which behind its walls the refugees will be under «custody» in the shape of population gatherings, under security daily monitoring of the concerned intelligence devices , and UNRWA forms the administrative supervisor of the situation inside the camps, in addition to providing the necessary services to it, in the fields of environment, health, education, and relief (food, shelter, clothing, and other necessary supplies).
2. What's the role of UNRWA and its duties towards the Palestinian refugees???
UNRWA started in providing its services to the Palestinian refugees in the host regions, namely: Gaza Strip, Jordan (including the Palestinian West Bank which became a stand-alone and separated area from Jordan after the War of 1967), Lebanon, and Syria (which means that the agency is currently working in 5 areas).
Had worked for a short time in Israel, but it stopped its services at the request of the Israeli government. In Iraq, the government of Nouri Al Sa'ed has pledged to fend the Palestinian refugees it had, in turn of an exemption of any financial obligations towards the Agency.
3. Is (UNRWA) a tool to protect the existence of Palestinian refugees legally and politically?
The role of (UNRWA) reflected in the protection of Palestinian refugees through its basic programs in the relief and human development and the scope of its interventions in their host countries, and finding a solution to the Arab Israeli conflict and the issue of Palestinian refugees is not one of its tasks duties.
The Relief Agency in cooperation with host countries organized the situation of the camps administratively, and moved some of its services to the cities that host Palestinian refugees, such as (schools, clinics, centers of distribution of aids ....... etc). Despite all that could be counted as a criticism against the agency, the obligatory requires us to make recognition that it had the most prominent role in the reformulation of the Palestinian situation in the Diaspora:
• camps that were wanted to be collective concentration camps, under the control of the concerned security authorities , turned into a social brooder -without the desire of those states which made it- which in turn contributed greatly in maintaining the national identity and the political Existence of the Palestinians. There emerged within the camp communities of the same family, and the same town or village, as well as the entire camp turned to the bridge which protected the affiliation of the Palestinian to his cause and country. (This did not eliminate, necessarily, the state of misery experienced by these camps).
• The services that they are to be submitted for resettlement recalled the needs of many of the refugees who have benefited from it, but they resisted in turn all the settlement projects that were put on over the past years. And the refugees remained clinging to their right of return, who are an important part of the emerging national situation in the region and a spearhead against the American and Western projects which work against the feelings and aspirations of the Arab nationalism. There is no doubt that the free education in the schools of the agency contributed in spreading awareness among the refugees and it had made grounds for the birth of social groups which the education formed its only capital in dealing with the world outside the camp (and inside too). As well as the health services limited percentage of mortality among children, and it contributed in maintaining the health of mothers so the refugees proliferated in a normal frequency, according to the criteria adopted in the Middle East.
This is the positive role played by UNRWA in the lives of the refugees, including their success in re-crystallizing their national personality and safeguarding it, and building their own political existence, against the failure to crack the way for the settlement projects, and it drew the attention of donor countries, particularly the United States where the Congress tried more to stop than once to stop his country's contribution in financing of the Agency because of the failure of the Agency and - in accordance with the vision of America - in integrating the refugees in the host community as a prelude to resettle them, to close the file of the refugee issue in the region forever.
4. What are the indicators to the role of (UNRWA) in the protection of the Palestinian refugees?
Palestinian refugees need protection due to the absence of national protection, with the exception of Jordan and Syria (where refugees live in a stable environment and are entitled to certain rights which are inconsistent with the national protection). The needs of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon for the protection is very high , and they share with the refugees in Gaza Strip and the Palestinian West Bank concerns about the internal political tensions and the absence of the rule of law and the conflict. The protection challenges in Gaza Strip and the Palestinian West Bank is unique and restricted by Israel.
The first component - in respect to the rights of Palestinian refugees - is to find a fair and lasting solution for their suffering where this responsibility is held by some political actors and parties, while the role of (UNRWA) is to highlight the urgent need for that solution and to help to ensure the protection of the rights and interests of the refugees.
The second component covers the protection that is the responsibility lies on the host government or the occupation authority or the organization that has the power to de facto which is called the "international protection", where work (UNRWA) works in promoting the respect for the rights of refugees through monitoring abuses and interventions in order to obtain therapeutic or corrective procedures and reporting of the organizations that are able to create outcomes for protection, including the organizations its recommendations are legally binding and require monitoring and intervention.
The third component: (UNRWA) is directly responsible to provide services in a manner to promote and ensure respect for the rights and safety of its staff, which is an essential part for ensuring the provision of quality services for refugees with international agreement standards. (UNRWA) has direct obligations to ensure protection of the health, educational and social welfare sectors, in addition to the infrastructure and loans, which is considered within the provision of services and not separated of them.
The fourth component is that the (UNRWA) must ensure that its needs and requirements will be processed at all aspects of the design of programs and projects, policies and protocols and procedures in addition to staff training.
(UNRWA) works with the relevant authorities to help provide protection for Palestinian refugees, in particular the non-governmental international organizations. Where the (UNRWA) operates with UNHCR to ensure that all Palestinians who need to be protected receive it already, as is the need to cooperate with the International Red Cross with regard to emergency responses and the arrest of refugees.
(UNRWA) also operates with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) closely in the field of child protection. And works more closely with UNESCO with regard to health and education programs, and these two organizations loan the agency of (UNRWA) some senior international staff to assist in managing health and education programs. (UNRWA) works also with the United Nations Special Coordinator of the peace process in the Middle East.
5. What is the difference between UNHCR and (UNRWA) with regard to refugees?
Responsibility of (UNRWA) is limited on providing services to one category of refugees who are those Palestinians living in the five areas of its operation (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian West Bank including Eastern Jerusalem) and the main headquarters is located in Jordan and Gaza. Where the (UNRWA) is responsible of providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian refugees, plus, providing education, health care and social services, shelter, small loans, and the role of UNRWA is unique in that because it is the only organization among the United Nations organizations directly under the General Assembly, and that the beneficiaries of its services belong to one nation.
While UNHCR is responsible for the refugees in the rest of the world, and is mandated to provide international protection to refugees under its mandate and to find lasting solutions to their problems by assisting governments, as has been expanded the scope of the Commission to include persons who do not have nationalities or do not have citizenship and persons returning to their homes and displaced within their own countries.
6. Is there a political and legal impact if the UNHCR changed the responsibility for caring for refugees?
UNHCR cannot take responsibility for caring of the Palestinian refugees for this will have its political and legal effects on the refugee populations, because if it did so, this task means that the Palestinian refugee issue would not be solved never, because the UNHCR is not concerned with only the Palestinian refugees , but the generality of the refugees in the world and it is permanent, so (UNRWA) was established as a temporary agency to be renewal of its mandate every three years until a fair solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is found.
It is noteworthy the Palestinian refugees were excluded in particular and deliberate way by the system of international refugee law, which was adopted under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees Protocol in 1967, because they are receiving assistance from (UNRWA).
Edited and Translated By: Eiad Ayob