PRRN refugee books on sale at Pluto Press

Posted: June 28, 2015 by Rex Brynen in new publications
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plutobooks

Two of the books I coedited with Roula el-Rifai—Compensation to Palestinian Refugees and the Search for Palestinian-Israeli Peace (2013) and The Palestinian Refugee Problem: The Search for a Resolution (2013)are currently on sale at the Pluto Press website with a 40% discount.

Click here to access the website to have the 40% discount automatically applied, then search “Brynen” to find them. You’ll also find several other books on Palestinians, refugees, and Palestinian refugees on sale too.

The sale ends July 10.

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Last month, Fateh Azzam (Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University in Beirut, and Senior Policy Fellow at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy) authored a piece on the al-Shabaka Palestinian policy website proposing that the State of Palestine grant all Palestinian refugees citizenship.

What is proposed here is that the State of Palestine can begin conferring citizenship, in accordance with the Declaration of Independence, and in exercise of its sovereign right to do so as a state, albeit still under occupation and even though its citizens are unable yet to exercise their right to return to their homeland. Importantly, this would be the first act by the State of Palestine to give priority to its hitherto almost-forgotten constituency, the stateless refugees. There are of course benefits and risks….

Jadaliyya has now reproduced that piece, invited critical comments from others, and posted it all as a roundtable discussion.

In this roundtable, Al-Shabaka policy advisors debate the pros and cons of this proposal, and find more problems than solutions. Randa Farah, who has done extensive work on Palestinian refugees, warns against de-linking the law from the messy reality of power and politics and describes the ways Israel can use this proposal, including in its persistent campaign to dismantle the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Ingrid Jaradat, co-founder and former director of Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, notes that the legal tools and mechanisms already exist to give Palestinian refugees rights almost equal to those of the citizens in the countries of refuge, and argues that a citizenship law will undermine the international status of Palestinians as one people.

Amman-based international lawyer Anis Kassim, recalling the history of the Palestinians in Jordan and the problems they face today, fears that the idea may play into the hands of a government interested in divesting its Palestinian-origin citizens of their Jordanian nationality. Writer and analyst Mouin Rabbani believes that creative thinking is sorely needed to shake up the political dynamic but also notes that the narrow factional state of the Palestinian movement will preclude any action.  Political commentator, author, and playwright Samah Sabawi notes that the Palestinian passport is ranked the 5th worst in the world in terms of visa restrictions and wonders what authority the ailing leadership can wield. Jaber Suleiman, the Coordinator of the Centre for Refugee Rights/Aidoun in Lebanon, points out that the Palestinians never lost their original citizenship and expresses concern that while the current proposal might not weaken the individual right to choose to return, it would weaken the collective right of return.  Fateh Azzam offers a response to the points made in the discussion.

For another perspective on this issue, see also the article by Asem Khalil (Birzeit University) in Middle East Law and Governance 6 (2014), asking “Is Citizenship a Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Problem?”

1433642901008RAND recently released a major study on the The Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which explores the cost and benefits of several possible outcomes to the conflict:

For much of the past century, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been a defining feature of the Middle East. Despite billions of dollars expended to support, oppose, or seek to resolve it, the conflict has endured for decades, with periodic violent eruptions, of which the Israel-Gaza confrontation in the summer of 2014 is only the most recent.

This study estimates the net costs and benefits over the next ten years of five alternative trajectories — a two-state solution, coordinated unilateral withdrawal, uncoordinated unilateral withdrawal, nonviolent resistance, and violent uprising — compared with the costs and benefits of a continuing impasse that evolves in accordance with present trends. The analysis focuses on economic costs related to the conflict, including the economic costs of security. In addition, intangible costs are briefly examined, and the costs of each scenario to the international community have been calculated.

The study’s focus emerged from an extensive scoping exercise designed to identify how RAND’s objective, fact-based approach might promote fruitful policy discussion. The overarching goal is to give all parties comprehensive, reliable information about available choices and their expected costs and consequences.

Seven key findings were identified: A two-state solution provides by far the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis would gain over three times more than the Palestinians in absolute terms — $123 billion versus $50 billion over ten years. But the Palestinians would gain more proportionately, with average per capita income increasing by approximately 36 percent over what it would have been in 2024, versus 5 percent for the average Israeli. A return to violence would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis; per capita gross domestic product would fall by 46 percent in the West Bank and Gaza and by 10 percent in Israel by 2024. In most scenarios, the value of economic opportunities gained or lost by both parties is much larger than expected changes in direct costs. Unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank would impose large economic costs on Israelis unless the international community shoulders a substantial portion of the costs of relocating settlers. Intangible factors, such as each party’s security and sovereignty aspirations, are critical considerations in understanding and resolving the impasse. Taking advantage of the economic opportunities of a two-state solution would require substantial investments from the public and private sectors of the international community and from both parties.

The project also has put together an online costs-calculator, which allows a user to modify economic assumptions used in the study and see how these affect the result.

What does the study have to say about the refugee issue, especially with regard to the two state outcome?

Under the two-state solution, we assume that 600,000 Palestinian refugees will return from abroad to the newly formed Palestinian state. Estimates of the number who are likely to return vary significantly, and we select 600,000—equivalent to an approximate 10-percent increase in the size of the population of the Palestinian state— as an “average” value. (p. 75)

Second, we assume that the international community will provide financial support to repatriate the refugees in a two-state solution. Specifically, we assume that the international community will provide sufficient public and private capital investment so that any influx of labor will not lower per capita GDP. (p. 99)

We also assume that the return of refugees would not reduce the per capita GDP of the Palestinian economy. Thus, the 10-percent expansion in the population (600,000 refugees) will be accompanied by a 10-percent expansion in the size of the entire economy, or roughly $2.7 billion. This will require an estimated $9 billion in additional public and private investment. (p. 113)

 We also anticipate that humanitarian assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [sic] will continue. (p. 143)

In my view the RAND study overestimates the amount of international financial assistance that would be forthcoming to support an agreement. It likely underestimates the challenges of refugee repatriation and absorption.

Moreover, the study also assumes that no compensation/reparation payments are made by Israel to refugees, although the payment of some compensation has long been both a Palestinian demand and an assumption of the international community. Previous Israeli governments have accepted the idea of refugee compensation in principle, although it is not clear that is still the case.

Given that estimates of compensation run from $2-3 billion to a Palestinian demand of $200+ billion, the absence of this from the study’s calculations is a significant omission. Moreover, many donors have signalled that they expect much or most of this ought to be paid by Israel, not the international community. Clearly it could factor as a significant expense for Israel, and a significant financial plus for the Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post on UNRWA’s 65th birthday

Posted: June 7, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Israel, UNRWA
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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency recent celebrated—if that is the right word—its 65th birthday. The occasion was notable for some quite strong criticism from Israel Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador David Roet.

The statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl on UNRWA@65 can be found here.

UNRWA’s 65th also sparked a critical commentary from the Jerusalem Post. Among other things, the editorial is notable for how much erroneous information it contains—highlighting once again how poorly understood the Agency is, especially within Israel.

PRRN reproduces the editorial at length below, with some comments inserted.

LogoAppJpost

UNRWA’s birthday
OPINION

By JPOST EDITORIAL \ 06/06/2015 20:55

There’s no other UN organ in which so many layers of unabashed hypocrisy overlap and contribute so cynically to the perpetuation of misery instead of assisting the cause of peace and prosperity.

Staging another of its surreal spectacles, the UN last week marked the 65th birthday of one of its most deformed, misbegotten offspring – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA was established in 1949 to cater exclusively to those deemed to be Palestinian refugees. All other refugees, regardless of degree of plight and objective hardship, are looked after by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while the privileged Palestinian category is singularly aided by UNRWA.

It is probably worth noting that UNHCR didn’t exist when UNRWA was established in December 1950. Moreover, UNRWA only deals with Palestinian refugees in its areas of operation—others outside this area (for example, in Iraq) do fall under its auspices.

The defect was already implanted in UNRWA’s genome.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted that UNRWA was never meant to live this long, but he contended that “it exists because of political failure.” Doubtless, as per the UN’s dishonorable tradition, Israel is blamed for this failure.

The Jewish state is habitually painted as the villain of any piece and its bogus villainy is exasperatingly accepted as an axiomatic premise.

Given that Israel forcibly displaced Palestinians in the first place, seized their property, and prevented them from returning to their homes, it is hardly surprising that many attach blame to Israel for the refugee issue.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl plaintively bewails refugee statistics, which he characteristically presents as unassailable facts – even though there is plenty to assail. According to Krahenbuhl, there are more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in today’s Middle East, because that is the number registered with UNRWA – never mind the fact that there may be personal incentives to register and political profit in inflating refugee rolls.

There is little evidence at all that current UNRWA rolls are inflated, in the sense that they inaccurately reflect the number of eligible persons under UNRWA’s mandate.

UNRWA’s own self-serving interests rule out neutrality and fairness to begin with, lest these actually lead to improvements that might obviate the sham pretext for keeping UNRWA around. Perversely, UNRWA’s continued existence hinges on never alleviating this region’s woes.

Put differently, it’s in UNRWA’s distinct interest to keep the flames of conflict burning high.

It is fair to say that the vast majority of UNRWA employees–who are refugees themselves–would like to see their status resolved in a just way. The leadership of the Agency has repeatedly noted that they look forward to UNRWA going out of business. Donors find it invaluable, and even Israel—despite its complaints—sees little alternative, and has called upon donors to increase their UNRWA contributions.

UNRWA’s numbers do undeniably point to the embedded problem, but not in the way Ban or Krahenbuhl portray things. True, UNRWA is kept alive because of a political failure, but not one that is of Israel’s making.

The Arab states, among them unimaginably wealthy oil-glutted monarchies and fiefdoms (quite niggardly in their handouts to UNRWA), utilize that very agency to calculatingly prevent refugee descendents from losing their refugee status. They thereby create the greatest obstacle to the peace they ostensibly seek.

It isn’t clear how a handful of Arab oil states would do this, given that UNRWA’s mandate is determined by the entire UN General Assembly. Moreover, around 2 million of the 3 million UNRWA-registered refugees outside of Palestine have been granted full citizenship in their host country or another. With the exception of Lebanon, refugees have also been economically integrated, with social and economic indicators largely comparable to host populations.

Regarding those refugees currently in the West Bank and Gaza, it is the Israeli occupation that prevents them from becoming full citizens of a functioning state of Palestine.

Also, it is not really true that Arab oil states are niggardly in their donations to the Agency. In 2014, the top ten donors to the Agency were (in absolute terms):

  1. US
  2. EU
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. United Kingdom
  5. Sweden
  6. UAE Red Crescent
  7. Norway
  8. Japan
  9. Australia
  10. Netherlands

However, Arab economies–even those of the oil states, are much smaller than those of European countries. A fairer comparison (relative to real GDP) would thus be:

  1. UAE (government + Red Crescent)
  2. Netherlands
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. Sweden
  5. Kuwait
  6. Norway
  7. Denmark
  8. Ireland
  9. Finland
  10. Switzerland

Obviously, if services provided to refugees outside of UNRWA were included, the Palestine Authority, Jordan, and pre-civil war Syria would be on these lists too. (Israel, might be noted, does not appear on the list no matter how one calculates it.)

They deliberately keep alive and fan the ambition to inundate Israel with millions of hostile Palestinians, while paying lip-service to a two-state solution. Had these same stingy states counseled refugee descendents to drop their “right-of-return” demands, they would make a colossal contribution both to refugee welfare and to peace.

I agree that greater clarity is needed from the entire international community on what sorts of durable solutions to the Palestinian refugee issue are plausible. Clearly, full-scale return of refugees to Israel is not going to happen.

That being said, Arab states have implicitly made this clear by offering israel a veto over any future refugee arrangements in the 2002 Arab Peace initiative. At no point since 1994 have Palestinian negotiators envisaged that Israel would accept and fully implement an unlimited “right of return,” although they have sought some acknowledgement that such a right exists as part of a compromise solution.

By unnaturally perpetuating a problem for generations, they give the lie to their own claims to promote a peaceful two-state solution. The same goes for UNRWA itself, an organization whose raison d’être is fraudulent and whose self-preservation hinges on making sure the problem entrusted to it is never solved.

This becomes self-evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA resort. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition the refugee’s descendents aren’t refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.

…however, stateless descendants of refugees are considered refugees (“derived status”) by UNHCR.

The only exceptions are the Palestinians.

Not at all. Afghan refugees born in Pakistan are, for example, considered refugees by UNHCR. UNHCR has also been very, very clear that the stateless descendants of Palestinian refugees born in Iraq should be considered refugees too.

UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Not only could an itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the right extends to “descendents of persons who became refugees in 1948.” Indeed one refugee great-grandparent suffices for inheriting the distinction – even when not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”

By UNHCR’s yardsticks, over 97% of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort.

This is simply not true at all, and—assuming that the Jerusalem Post is not being deliberately disingenuous—shows a remarkable lack of understanding. Under UNHCR rules, Palestinian citizens of Jordan would not, it is true, be considered refugees. However, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon would almost certainly be considered refugees under UNHCR rules, just as UNHCR treats stateless Palestinian refugee descendants as refugees in Iraq and elsewhere.

There’s no other UN organ in which so many layers of unabashed hypocrisy overlap and contribute so cynically to the perpetuation of misery instead of assisting the cause of peace and prosperity.

It’s time to regard UNRWA as a problem in and of itself.

It’s time to cease shelling out millions that only impede peace and artificially sustain an insidious travesty. This region would be better off without UNRWA. It’s time to transfer its responsibilities to UNHCR.

Given the Jerusalem Post‘s earlier objection to the right of return, this is a strange proposal. UNHCR—far more clearly and frequently than UNRWA—asserts that all refugees indeed have a right of return, noting that “The right of refugees to return to their country of origin is fully recognized in international law” (UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection, Chapter 2.1). In practice, UNHCR generally prioritizes return/repatriation over other types of durable solution (local integration, resettlement) for refugees.

In any case, any such transfer would require a decision by the UN General Assembly—something, it is clear, won’t happen.

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Palestine refugees and the interpretation of article 1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

This workshop will focus on legal issues relating to Palestinians who seek asylum in the UK.  This workshop will examine:

  1. The historical situation of Palestine refugees
  2. International law of Palestine refugees and Article 1D’s interpretations
  3. Litigating asylum claims in the UK and interpreting the ECJs El Kott decision and UNHCR interpretive notes under UK asylum law and practice.

DATE:  MONDAY 27 JULY 2015, 8.45 A.M. – 5.30 P.M.

VENUE : Oxford Quaker Meeting room, 43 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LD

REGISTER:  http;//www.oxfordrightsworkshops.co.uk/product/Palestine-refugees/  

The deadline for registration is 5 June 2015.

FEE: £350. The fee includes tuition, workshop materials, lunch and refreshments.

This course is suitable for: legal professionals, researchers, post-graduate students and those with an interest in immigration law.

This refugee law workshop offers 6 hours CPD

Level: UPDATE

Oxford Rights Workshops offers unaccredited CPD points for solicitors who chose to follow the new continuing competency approach

 

GUEST SPEAKERS AND TUTORS:

SUSAN M AKRAM, CLINICAL PROFESSOR, BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW

Professor Susan M. Akram teaches immigration law, comparative refugee law, and international human rights law at Boston University. She is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC (JD), and the Institut International des Droits de l‘Homme, Strasbourg (Diploma in international human rights). She is a past Fulbright Senior Scholar in Palestine, teaching at Al-Quds University/ Palestine School of Law in East Jerusalem

DAWN CHATTY, PROFESSOR OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND FORCED MIGRATION; FORMER DIRECTOR, RSC

Professor Dawn Chatty is a social anthropologist and has conducted extensive research among Palestinian and other forced migrants in the Middle East. Some of her recent works include Children of Palestine: Experiencing Forced Migration in the Middle East (ed. with Gillian Lewando-Hundt), Berghahn Press, 2005, and Dispossession and Displacement in the Modern Middle East, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

ELIZABETH RUDDICK, SOLICITOR AT WESLEY GRYK SOLICITORS LLP

Elizabeth is a solicitor at Wesley Gryk Solicitors LLP, a firm with a leading role in personal immigration law in the UK.  Her current practice covers a broad range of cases, but focuses on asylum and applications based on human rights and family relationships.  She is qualified as a solicitor as well as an Attorney-at-Law in the State of New York.

Elizabeth first practiced immigration law in the US in 1996, and in the UK in 2007. Elizabeth is a native of New York City, and has lived in Germany and Italy as well as the UK. She was educated at Harvard University, Boston University, and the London School of Economics. After graduating from law school, she clerked for Hon. Nancy Gertner at the Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts, before joining the Immigration Group at Dechert Price and Rhoads in Philadelphia. After moving to the UK, she practiced law at Elder Rahimi Solicitors and Refugee and Migrant Justice, specialising in asylum and refugee law. In addition to preparing asylum and immigration applications, she has represented her clients as an advocate before both the First Tier and Upper Tribunal, Immigration and Asylum Chamber.

CONTACT: Heidi El-Megrisi
admin@oxfordrightsworkshops.co.uk
www.oxfordrightsworkshops.co.uk
tel: +44 (0) 7720601053

At the al-Shabaka policy network website, Fateh Azzam (Director of the newly established Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University in Beirut) has a “bold proposal”: that Palestine should give all Palestinian refugees Palestinian citizenship:

Now that Palestine is recognized as a state, the next bold step for Palestine is to confer citizenship on its stateless refugees and enter into bilateral agreements with other states regarding the status of Palestinian citizens in each country. In making the case for such a move, Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Fateh Azzam is well aware of the treacherous political waters that this proposal entails. However, he argues that it is worth considering from all its aspects, including the potential problems, as it could be a long over-due move to strengthen the legal status of Palestinian refugees – in particular the stateless refugees – and to improve their situation in their countries of current residence. It would also create facts on the ground, which may become the building blocks for national liberation.

His excellent analysis is sensitive to the difficulties such an initiative would encounter: Arab opposition to dual citizenship (and the possible erosion of their legal rights in Jordan); the risks it might pose the Palestinian claims of a right of return; possible retaliatory measures by Israel or the US; the practical difficulties of implementation. However, he argues, the benefits would be much greater, reinforcing the legal linkage between Palestine and refugees in the diaspora, and possibly improving the treatment of Palestinians in some countries. The right of return, he argues, is an individual right, and cannot and would not be diminished by acts of the state of Palestine.

All-in-all, a very important piece that is well worth reading.

A summary of the report by the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry into certain incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 8 July 2014 and 26 August 2014 has been released by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The full report has not been made publicly available.

The key findings of the report are:

  • Weapons were briefly stored at three vacant UNRWA facilities during the conflict: Gaza Beach Elementary Co-educational “B” School; UNRWA Jabalia Elementary “C” and Ayyobiya Boys School on 22 July 2014; and UNRWA Nuseirat Preparatory co-educational “B” School. In three cases (and in one case, contrary to UNRWA’s public statement at the time) the weapons were removed by unknown persons before they could be removed under UN auspices or arrangements. In one case the weapons were rendered safe by UN specialist personnel.
  • Weapons were fired on some occasions from near UN facilities, or even from within vacant or abandoned UN facilities.
  • Injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Maghazi Preparatory Girls “A/B” School on 21 and 22 July 2014 were the result of IDF tank and mortar fire.
  • Injury occurring at and damage done to UNRWA Deir El Balah Preparatory Girls “C” School on 23 July 2014 was the result of IDF tank fire.
  • Deaths and injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Beit Hanoun Elementary Co-educational “A” and “D” School on 24 July 2014 were the result of IDF mortar fire.
  • Injuries occurring at and damage done to Zaitoun Preparatory Girls “B” School On the night of 28/29 July 2014 was likely the result of IDF missile fire.
  • Deaths and injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Jabalia Elementary Girls “A” and “B” School on 30 July 2014 were the result of IDF artillery fire.
  • Deaths and injuries occurring at and/or in the immediate vicinity of, and damage done to, the UNRWA Rafah Preparatory Boys “A” School on 3 August 2014 was the result of IDF missile fire at a passing motorcycle carrying members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  • Damage done to the UNRWA Khuza’a Elementary College Co- educational “A” and “B” School between 17 July and 26 August 2014 was the result of IDF tank fire.

The report makes a number of recommendations regarding safety and security (8) and communications and coordination (9). Many of these involve developing operating procedures for dealing with neutrality issues and weapons incidents, and improving coordination between Israel and UNRWA. The report also notes that “UNRWA’s mandate is essentially humanitarian in nature. UNRWA conducts its activities through programmes in education, health, relief and social services. Its staff should not be involved in issues of weaponry, ammunition and unexploded ordnance, nor should it have to collect shrapnel from schools. It requires the further assistance of qualified and experienced personnel, preferably with a military background, to support its staff.” and that “UNRWA international staff and senior local staff should urgently receive counselling to address potential post-traumatic stress disorder. These staff members have gone through very stressful events for a prolonged period of time.”

Since the report is likely to be heavily spun by partisans—already the UN Watch blog is breathlessly emphasizing “UN admits Palestinians fired rockets from UNRWA schools” but notably underplaying the parts where the Israel fired on UN facilities, sometimes without any evidence of proximate militant activity—so readers are urged to read the whole thing and make up their own minds. My own view is that combat operations in Gaza will inevitably result in some UN facilities caught up in hostilities, whether through close firing, misuse of empty installations, mistakes, and/or carelessness. Indeed, perhaps the most striking part of the report is what it doesn’t say: the overwhelming majority of UN facilities in Gaza provided a relatively safe haven for civilians, and were not abused by either Palestinian armed groups or the IDF during the last Gaza war. However, there are sensible things that can be done to further reduce the risks to refugees and UN personnel.

UNRWA appeal for Yarmouk

Posted: April 20, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNRWA
Tags:

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The following comes via UNRWA USA:

Horrifying images of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus have been in the news recently after various armed groups moved in and hostilities in the camp dramatically intensified putting the lives of thousands of civilians – among them UNRWA registered refugees – at serious risk.

During the fighting in which 3,500 children were caught up, I led a humanitarian mission to Damascus and while there UNRWA expanded its assistance to Yarmouk’s residents who fled the fighting and were temporarily displaced to adjacent neighbourhoods.

I want to tell you more about our humanitarian work with these traumatised and displaced communities in a moment. But first I’d like to introduce two small children who I met on my Damascus mission in a temporary shelter in a suburb called Yalda.

Jihad Ya’qoub, the youngest Palestinian refugee to flee Yarmouk, was born on March 30. His mother, Said Fatima, never imagined bringing a child into this world could be so tough.

Mohammad was born in Yarmouk on January 25 of this year. When armed groups moved in, his mother, Nadia, fled in search of safety. Her only thoughts were to save the life of her newborn son

Like the wider Syrian conflict, Yarmouk has a human face; the faces of young Mohammad and Jihad. I introduce you to them in the hope that you, too, will understand why I am firmly convinced that turning away is not an option — and why the international community – all of us – must act in a concerted manner to respond to the many tragedies in Syria.

UNRWA, with its special responsibilities towards Palestine refugees has played its role and I say with pride that the response of our team in Damascus was immediate and courageous. Though we have been unable to get into Yarmouk itself since 28 March, we went to the areas adjacent to the zone of hostilities and negotiated access with local political and religious authorities. And so we were able to expand our emergency response to include assistance to some 3,000 civilians who’d just escaped Yarmouk to nearby areas.

Each day our teams have provided 1,000 families with food parcels, containing a 10-day supply of food for a family of five. Also 1,200 bags of bread and other humanitarian items were provided. Our medical staff established a mobile health point, treating 254 patients over the course of the day, our doctors identified 10 cases of hepatitis A, as a result of contaminated water supplies in the area. In addition to food and medicine, we are supplying water purification treatments, mattresses, blankets, family kitchen sets and hygiene kits.

We are providing assistance not just to Palestinian and Syrian families temporarily displaced from Yarmouk but also to host communities in the neighbourhoods of YaldaBabila and Beit Saham.

And this is why I write. I firmly believe that you, as an individual can and should get involved. You can make a difference. We can all make a difference. So please take time to follow this link and give. Every cent counts. Even the smallest donation can make a real difference in the lives of people like Jihad and Mohammad.

  • $29 feeds one refugee for one month;
  • $70 provides mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets for a displaced family of 5;
  • $200 provides access to life saving health care to 40 refugees; and
  • $1,200 provides clean drinking water to 150 refugees.

On behalf of them, on behalf of all the refugees we serve in Syria I thank you.

Sincerely,

Pierre Krähenbühl
Commissioner General
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Yarmouk updates

Posted: April 12, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNRWA
Tags:

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UNRWA issued its latest situation report on Yarmouk, Syria yesterday:

UNRWA Situation Report Yarmouk

11 April 2015

UNRWA is deeply concerned that lack of humanitarian access to the civilians inside Yarmouk, and those displaced to the south east of Yarmouk, is putting 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian men, women and children at grave risks. Civilians from Yarmouk remain unable to meet their most basic needs of food, water and healthcare, and continue to be exposed to unacceptable levels of violence.

Situation report 11 April 2015

  • The intensity of violence has decreased over the past two days in Yarmouk. Up to 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children, inside and outside of Yarmouk continue to be affected by unimaginable levels of violence and deprivation.
  • UNRWA and its partners stand ready to resume humanitarian assistance to civilians inside Yarmouk and to those displaced from Yarmouk as a result of the ongoing armed violence.
  • UNRWA has provided immediate and life-saving humanitarian assistance to up to 100 civilians from Yarmouk who remain displaced in Tadamon. In addition to the food, mattresses and blankets distributed on April 4th, the Agency distributed hygiene kits and baby kits to support displaced families.
  • An UNRWA health team visited the civilians on April 8th and provided direct assistance to 31 people, mostly suffering from chronic diseases.
  • UNRWA is working quickly with all partners to assess the situation of the displaced civilians to the south east of Yarmouk, in Yalda, Babela and Beit Sahm and respond to their most pressing needs.
  • UNRWA demands all parties to respect, and comply with, their obligations to protect civilians. UNRWA further demands the establishment of secure conditions under which the Agency can deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance.

UNRWA preparedness

  • UNRWA mobilized its emergency response team on April 1st to develop a range of response scenarios, including large displacements to areas where UNRWA does not currently have access.
  • UNRWA works closely with partners and UN Agencies to mobilize resources for a large-scale humanitarian response to support the civilians of Yarmouk.
  • UNRWA has prepositioned stocks of food, mattresses, blankets, and hygiene kits to respond to the most urgent needs as soon as access is granted.

Call for support

  • As violence continues to affect the lives and safety of Palestine refugees throughout Syria, UNRWA appeals for donors to increase their support to the Agency’s Emergency Appeal.
  • The capacity of the Agency to sustain life-saving emergency interventions, whilst responding immediately to urgent developments such as the one impacting Yarmouk since April 1st, is gravely undermined by chronic underfunding for humanitarian interventions inside Syria.
  • More than 95% of Palestine refugees now rely on UNRWA to meet their daily needs of food, water and healthcare.
  • Priorities interventions include cash assistance which enables UNRWA to access up to 470,000 Palestine refugees in need, including up to 39,500 of them currently living in hard to reach areas. This intervention will run out of funding after the distribution of second round of cash assistance in June.
  • Additional funding is also required for critical non-food items including blankets, mattresses and hygiene kits for all displaced Palestine refugee families throughout Syria.

At the same time, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl undertook an urgent mission to Syria:

The visit is prompted by UNRWA’s deepening concerns for the safety and protection of some 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children, as Yarmouk remains under the control of armed groups, and as civilian lives continue to be threatened by the effects of the armed conflict in the area.

The objectives of the Commissioner-General’s visit are:

  • a. to obtain a closer view of the evolving situation in Yarmouk and to learn from the experiences of individuals affected by the crisis;
  • b. to consult with the Government of Syria on its perspectives, and to exchange views on  peaceful approaches to addressing the humanitarian consequences of the situation in Yarmouk;
  • c. to consult with the Deputy UN Special Envoy  on approaches to non-state actors in order to secure humanitarian access to civilians.
  • d. to consult with the Deputy Special Envoy and other UN colleagues on the UN’s role with particular reference to feasible humanitarian action to support civilians in Yarmouk under all circumstances
  • e. to recognize and give encouragement to UNRWA staff and colleagues from other UN Agencies in Syria.

To achieve these objectives, the Commissioner-General will meet with relevant senior Syrian officials, UN colleagues and UNRWA staff. He will also visit the displaced people presently accommodated in a government school building in Tadamoun.

The Evils of UNRWA?

Posted: April 4, 2015 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, UNHCR, UNRWA

Well, David Bedein is at it again with his latest bizarre video, Children’s Army of Hamas. This time, however, he scores something of an own-goal, and accidentally provides a rather powerful argument for supporting UNRWA.

The most of the video shows a troubling phenomenon–the military training and indoctrination of Gazan children by Hamas.

However, Bedein then goes on to try to link these activities to UNRWA by interspersing clips from the training camps (which take place under Hamas auspices in Hamas-controlled facilities) with clips of Hamas officials saying positive things about UNRWA (which have nothing to do with military training camps whatsoever). Hamas statements, of course, will come as no surprise to either Israel or to donors—everyone is aware that the Agency needs a practical working relationship with Hamas to provide humanitarian services in Gaza, much as it needs a practical working relationship with the IDF to function in areas of the West Bank, or with the Syrian government and Syrian rebels to operate in Syria. Indeed, it is pretty much humanitarian assistance 101, and fully consistent with why the international community funds the Agency. Hamas also has to be careful about criticizing UNRWA, since the Agency enjoys a higher degree of social trust than does Hamas itself.

What is striking in all this is that Bedein’s video also implicitly highlights that while Hamas attempts to recruit children as combatants, UNRWA does not permit such activities at all—which is why he has to film non-UNRWA events and then try to smear the Agency with ludicrous guilt-through-association. Paramilitary activities and support for violence are prohibited by UNRWA in both its educational curriculum and in its facilities. UNRWA summer camps, which focus on issues of fun and human rights, have been regarded as a direct challenge to Hamas in this regard, since they attract children who might otherwise attend Hamas-linked activities. In short, were funding for UNRWA educational and youth activities to be ended and Hamas to take over all education, some 225,000 pupils would be subject to potential paramilitary indoctrination in Gaza schools. Given this, it is no wonder Israel has been asking donors to increase their support for UNRWA activities in Gaza.

In contrast to Bedein’s latest bizarre antics, some more serious criticisms of UNRWA are levelled by contributors to a special issue of Justice 55 (Winter 2014/15), the magazine of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. These vary widely in quality. The magazine reproduces a couple of pieces by Bassem Eid that are simply so factually wrong that they further shred whatever residual credibility he might have once had.  Shabtai Shavit’s “A Tale of Two “Refugee” Organizations: UNRWA vs. UNHCR” is far more rhetoric than analysis. Articles by Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky reflect their well-known positions, but are at least sustained by some knowledge of the topic (even if I would disagree with most of their conclusions). James Lindsay, once again, emerges as one of the most thoughtful critics of the Agency.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of the lot is by Steven Rosen, who highlights the extent to which the government of Israel—despite its periodic complaints about aspects of UNRWA—continues to strongly support the Agency’s activities:

Deeply flawed as the agency is, Israel depends on UNRWA as an element promoting stability in the West Bank and Gaza, a vital strategic objective for the Jewish State.

The epicenter of Israel’s cooperation with UNRWA is Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the IDF, and specifically the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which has the day-to-day task of coordinating civil and security affairs in the West Bank and Gaza. COGAT attempts to maintain a good working relationship with UNRWA, mainly to help the agency perform its task of providing vital services to the Palestinian Arabs, services that the IDF might have to provide if UNRWA were suddenly removed

The Congressional Research Service reports that “Israeli officials … assert that UNRWA plays a valuable role by providing stability and serving as the eyes and ears of the international community in Gaza. They generally characterize UNRWA’s continued presence as preferable to the uncertain alternative that might emerge if UNRWA were removed from the picture.”

Israel’s dependence on UNRWA makes it leery of anti-UNRWA activity by its friends in Western countries. In January 2010, the president of Canada’s Treasury Board announced that the Harper government would redirect its Palestinian aid away from UNRWA and toward specific projects of the Palestinian Authority, much to the satisfaction of pro-Israel organizations in the country.[12] But six months later, in August 2010, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) reported that, “In discussions with … Israel …, Canada has been asked to resume funding the [UNRWA] General Fund.” A critic of the pro-Israel groups sneered, “The lobby is working in a vacuum with very poor information, pushing for actions that the Israeli government feels is not in its interest.”

On a final note, it is striking that none of the pieces in the magazine make any attempt whatsoever to assess Israel’s responsibilities in the refugee issue. After all, it was not UNRWA that forcibly displaced most of the non-Jews resident from within what became Israel in 1948, nor was it UNRWA that seized their properties and prevented them from returning (with lethal force, if necessary) on ethno-religious grounds. While most of the articles suggest that refugees be absorbed or resettled, there is almost no attention to the way 90% of all refugee situations are resolved in the modern era, namely through repatriation. Here again, it has not been UNRWA that has prevented return of refugees to Israel, nor their repatriation to the West Bank or Gaza—including hundreds of thousands of 1967 displaced persons whose repatriation has been agreed three times (in the 1978 Camp David Accords, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty) but never implemented. Israel has also indicated that it will not permit the current repatriation of Palestinians in Iraq and Syria who face severe threats of violence and deprivation.

For their part, neither Syria nor Lebanon have been willing to extend citizenship to Palestinian refugees resident there, while Jordan has been particularly anxious to keep additional Palestinians out of the country. (The PA/PLO hasn’t been enthusiastic about this either, a stance that I strongly disagree with. Hamas has welcomed refugees, but few can get to Gaza, or wish to do so.)

In short, the lack of durable solutions for these populations really can’t be laid at the Agency’s door, whatever its shortcomings.