Monday, February 19, 2007

At the Heart of the Conflict: Refugees

Many regions around the globe have experienced refugee conundrums (what is the best solution towards promoting their safety, relocation, rehabilitation, etc.), especially in post-war scenarios. World War ll is one of the most glaring examples, with millions of refugees from war-torn Europe needing immediate assistance, and ultimately resettlement into new homes, often in territories reflecting the new national parameters hammered out in postwar treaties and agreements. The postwar period was marked by the forced resettlement and expulsion of millions of Poles, Romanians/Moldovians, Kashubians, Ukrainians, Hungarians and Jews throughout Eastern Europe and Russia, as well. According to Allied sources revealed after 1990, the migration of ethnic Germans affected up to 16.5 million people and was the largest of several similar post-World War II migrations orchestrated by the victorious Western Allies and the Soviet Union. These resettlements were often as swift as they were harsh.
In 1950, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency was established by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of around 6,689 people in 116 countries continues to help 20.8 million persons.
By contrast, UNRWA, the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was created in 1949 to exclusively help individuals (along with their spouses and dependants) whose homes were in Palestine from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948 and who lost both their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the conflict. It was created solely for the benefit of Palestinians, and close to sixty years after the armistice of 1949, still perpetuates rather than solves the Palestinian refugee problem. The JPost : Refugees forever? One may rightfully ask, why is this so?
The primary function of UNHCR is to ensure the protection, resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees. UNRWA is set up to address only the first issue, and even on that score, its track record is poor. While undoubtedly providing important humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, in the end UNRWA acts as a fig leaf for an Arab world that has deliberately ignored or exploited the plight of these refugees.
While Israel absorbed upwards of a million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries following the 1948 War, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, third and fourth generation by now, still languish in refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East, including in the West Bank, and amazingly, still in Gaza, from where Israel withdrew and evacuated every last Jew, dead and alive, in the summer of 2005. UNRWA continues to perpetuate a refugee crisis for the Palestinians by considering the descendants of those whose homes were in Palestine from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948 as refugees, thus putting the number of Palestinian refugees in the exodus now into the millions. Amazingly, relinquishing their 'right of return' into Israel proper remains a sticking point for Palestinian leaders. At the heart of the matter we somehow always return to the implicit questioning of Israel's very Right to Exist. more on the refugee issue below...

The Palestinian Refugees

The Palestine Refugee Problem

Perpetuating Refugees
In 1949, the UN established the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Last week UNRWA launched a drive to increase contributions. In the 1980s the Arab world financed 8% of UNRWA's outlay. By 2006 its share was less than 3%. The very nations responsible for keeping the "refugees" displaced, and who whip up lust for revenge, do the least for them. Israel has withdrawn completely from Gaza, including dismantling settlements and even moving cemeteries. This was the moment the Palestinians claimed to be waiting for - complete territorial contiguity and not a single Israeli settler, roadblock, or military base in sight. Israel's withdrawal freed up substantial tracts of prime real estate. Yet nothing has been done to help the refugees find permanent homes. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered refugees. But UNRWA stipulates that refugee rights extend to "descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948." The time has come to impress on Western donors to cease shelling out millions that only impede peace, and to bring the UNRWA travesty to its overdue end. The Arab states need to start showing that peace, not Israel's destruction, is their solution to the refugee problem, and to stop doing their best to perpetuate the problem themselves.

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