Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

UNRWA Betrays Its Mission

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

UNRWA Betrays Its Mission

Article excerpt

The twentieth century experienced some of the worst instances of population displacement in history: the 1 5 million ethnic Germans forced out of their homes in Eastern Europe after World War ?; the millions of Muslims and Hindus fleeing the newly established states of India and Pakistan during the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1948; the millions of Armenians, Greeks, Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Jews, and Kurds, among others, driven from their lands and resettled elsewhere.

By contrast, the 600,000 Arabs who fled their homes in mandatory Palestine and the nascent state of Israel during the 1947-48 war1 have been kept in squalid camps for decades by their Arab hosts as a means of derogating Israel in the eyes of the West and arousing pan-Arab sentiments. And as if to add insult to injury, the U.N. Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), established in December 1949 as a temporary means for relieving the plight of the newly-displaced refugees,2 has transformed into apermanent organization that has substantially exacerbated the problem whose resolution it was supposed to facilitate.


The idea underlying the establishment of UNRWA was that "assistance for the relief of the Palestine refugees is necessary to prevent conditions of starvation and distress among them and to further conditions of peace and stability." Yet it was clear from the outset that these "constructive measures" were of a temporary nature and that "direct relief should be terminated not later than 31 December 1950 unless otherwise determined by the General Assembly at its fifth regular session."3

Within a year, however, it had become evident that UNRWAhad no intention of folding up. Based on its operational report, on December 2, 1950, the General Assembly passed resolution 393 (V), which asserted "that direct relief cannot be terminated as provided in paragraph 6 of resolution 302 (IV)" and recommended that UNRWAs activities be continued "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."4

The solution to the refugee problem that UNRWA's establishment was supposed to facilitate had been outlined by General Assembly resolution 1 94 of December 11,1 948, which envisaged the repatriation of the refugees and/or their resettlement in their host countries as part of a comprehensive peace settlement to be mediated by a soon-to-be-established three-member Conciliation Committee for Palestine (UNCCP).5 In line with this outlook, resolution 393 instructed the establishment of a $30 million "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."6 This sum was increased in January 26, 1952, to $100 million for the fiscal year July 1,1952-July 1,1953 (compared to a mere $ 1 8 million assigned to relief operations) - thus indicating the U.N.'s continued emphasis on resolving the refugee problem.

Tasked by resolution 194 with facilitating "the repatriation, resettlement, and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation," UNCCP suggested shifting funds assigned for compensation to resettlement because "the majority of the refugees can only hope to receive as compensation a much smaller sum than will be required to resettle them in the Arab countries." Moreover, "when the time comes to pay compensation, it is to be hoped that a large number of the refugees will already have been resettled by UNRWA."7 This was also the hope of U.N. secretary-general Trygve Lie, who said: "The refugees will lead an independent life in countries which have given them shelter .. . the refugees will no longer be maintained by an international organization . . . They will . . . provide for their own needs and those of their families. …

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