Archive for the ‘UNRWA’ Category

World Bank report on UNRWA education

Posted: February 8, 2016 by Rex Brynen in UNRWA, World Bank

100532-cover.pngThe World Bank recently released a detailed study of UNRWA’s educational services for Palestinian refugees, and the conclusions are generally very positive indeed:

Palestine refugees are achieving higher-than-average learning outcomes in spite of the adverse circumstances they live under. Their education system—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees in the Near East—operates one of the largest nongovernmental school systems in the Middle East. It manages nearly 700 schools, has hired 17,000 staff, educates more than 500,000 refugee students each year, and operates in five areas, including the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Syrian Arab Republic. Contrary to what might be expected from a resource-constrained administration serving refugee students who continually face a multitude of adversities, UNRWA students outperform public schools in the three regions—the West Bank and Gaza and Jordan—by a year’s worth of learning.

The data below, for example, displays performance on standardized international tests for  math and science (TIMSS) and mathematics, science, and reading (PISA). The study does not examine schools in Syria and Lebanon, however.



You’ll find a World Bank blog summary by one of the study authors here, with a link to the full report.

Where do former UNRWA CGs go?

Posted: January 11, 2016 by Rex Brynen in UNHCR, UNRWA

If you’ve ever wondered where former UNRWA Commisioner-Generals go,  here’s your answer. Today UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon swore in Filippo Grandi as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Karen Abu Zayd as Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.


Karen served as UNRWA CG from 2005 to 2010, and Filippo from 2010 to 2014.

Homes in Gaza

Posted: November 17, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, UNRWA

Video released by UNRWA on 16 November 2015, showing current situation in Gaza.

Fact-checking “UNRWA has got to go”

Posted: October 28, 2015 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, UNRWA

factsToday’s Times of Israel has a piece by Ari Krauss entitle “UNRWA has got to go.” Unfortunately it is another example of the poorly-informed debate within Israel on the Agency and what it does (and doesn’t) do.

A few examples:

“It has, from the very beginning, been an organization that has had an interest in managing the problem of the Palestinian refugees rather than solving it.”

  • Not at all–UNRWA has been vociferous in calling for a resolution of the refugee issue that it would put it out of business. In the early, optimistic days of the Oslo process it began preliminary planning for service transfer/wind-down in the aftermath of a final status agreement, and it certainly took part in a range of quiet discussions on transitional issues (I know–I organized some of them). It also aligns its service delivery practices with host countries, in part, to make any eventual post-peace transfer of services easier.

“In contrast, the UN Refugee Agency, which deals with all refugees worldwide totaling approximately eleven million, employs sixty three hundred staffers…”

  • Only partly true. UNHCR subcontracts most of its actual service delivery, while UNRWA employs teachers, medical personnel directly. If you added employees of subcontracted NGOs to the UNHCR total it would be very much higher. (UNRWA also provides more extensive services.)

“The recent wave of violence has revealed a disturbing trend of calls to incitement of violence on social media. individuals identifying themselves as UNRWA employees in their profiles and even teachers at UNRWA schools have shared and posted images calling for violence against Jews and praising the stabbing attacks that had already taken place;

UNRWA has made no effort to curb these incidents and, as far as anyone can tell, makes no effort to investigate or fire such employees.”

  • The first part, regrettably, is true—and while it is hardly surprising that Palestinian employees of UNRWA (almost all from families that were ethnically cleansed from Palestine by Israel in 1948) might hate Israelis, there should be absolutely no tolerance for expressions of this within a UN agency.
  • The second part isn’t true. UNRWA does have active and ongoing measures against incitement or violation of political neutrality. UNRWA has taken disciplinary measures against some UNRWA employees, although in my view needs to do more, and to do it more publicly.

“UNRWA has made no effort ensure that it does not employ members of the many terror groups that operate within the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Refugee camps.”

  • Actually, the entire UNRWA employment roster is regularly transmitted to Israel for vetting (although they don’t talk about it a lot, since that’s hardly popular among Palestinians). It also checks its employee lists in other ways. Obviously, in some cases they’ll miss members of extremist groups, just as there are Israeli civil servants or military personnel who support the banned Kach/Kahane Chai Jewish terrorist organization.

“We don’t need to look further than last summer during Operation Protective Edge where UNRWA schools were offended found to be booby-trapped or storage sites for Hamas ordnance. In one shocking case, UNRWA officials claimed that they had turned over missiles found in one of their schools to “the local authorities” as per routine UN practice in these situations. Presumably that means Hamas, who, to the knowledge of counter terrorism experts and Western intelligence agencies, does not maintain an explosive ordnance disposal unit.”

  • No UNRWA school was found to be booby-trapped. The IDF did identify one “UNRWA clinic” as booby-trapped, but the claim was false as the IDF later admitted.
  • Weapons were found in a couple of UNRWA schools  that had been closed for the summer, which was a clear violation of UNRWA’s neutrality policy. It was UNRWA that found the weapons, UNRWA that denounced their presence, and tried to have them removed by liaising with Palestinian police personnel reporting to the Ramallah (not Gaza/Hamas) government. If Krauss had actually bothered to read the UN investigation report on the incident he would know that unknown persons removed the weapons before disposal could be arranged—UNRWA’s statements at the time got this wrong.
  • On a side note, the IDF has also made use of UN schools as military positions (even, in one case, as a temporary detention centre) in the past during operations in both the West Bank and Gaza. That too is a violation of UNRWA’s neutrality policy.

“The United Nations High Commissioner on Human rights states that the three primary solutions to refugee problems are “Voluntary repatriation, local integration, resettlement” these solutions only apply to original refugees; would that the Palestinians had not been allowed their special status of being able to pass down their status as refugees to their children than estimates put original Palestinian refugees today at anywhere between thirty and fifty thousand people, a much more manageable number which could have easily been granted the right of return in a peace agreement. Instead, we have a number that has ballooned into the millions and which would be impossible for Israel to absorb.”

  • Oh, where to begin
  • UNHCR has an even stronger position than UNRWA on refugees’ “right to return,” and clearly prioritizes the repatriation of refugees for 90%+ of refugees.
  • UNHCR recognizes the children of stateless refugees as refugees (“derived status”). Most UNRWA refugees would be refugees under UNHCR rules too. In cases where stateless subsequent-generation Palestinian refugees have been outside UNRWA’s area of operation (for example, Iraq), UNHCR has treated them as refugees.
  • Finally, the current Israeli government is not willing to accept the return of ANY Palestinian refugees, so it is a bit disingenuous to suggest that “thirty and fifty thousand people” would be “a much more manageable number which could have easily been granted the right of return in a peace agreement.”
  • I happen to agree that large-scale return of Palestinian refugees to Israel is not ever going to happen, and that clinging to an absolute right of return is an impediment to achieving peace. That being said, I’ve yet to meet a Palestinian negotiator who thinks very large numbers of refugees would return to 1948 areas either. The roots of the Palestinian yearning to return to their homeland are not to be found in UNRWA, however, but in forced displacement by Israel. Jews, after all, didn’t need a UN agency to wish to return to Eretz Israel, a yearning they sustained through centuries of diaspora… why think that Palestinians are incapable of that same desire?

There are certainly issues on which UNRWA practices and Israeli preferences (or the preferences of the current Israeli government) do not align. There are also issues on which UNRWA practices and those of the PA, or Hamas, or host countries, or even donors do not fully align. By all means, those are appropriate subjects for discussion.

It does help, however, to get your facts straight.

Donating to UNHCR and UNRWA

Posted: September 3, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNHCR, UNRWA

Amid the onging human devastation of the Syrian civil war and a growing regional and international refugee crisis, this is probably as good a time as ever to remind readers how they can help.

Click the images below to donate to UNHCR or UNRWA..

UNHCR appeal

UNRWA donate

The Jerusalem Post on UNRWA’s 65th birthday

Posted: June 7, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Israel, UNRWA

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.


UNRWA’s birthday

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.

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


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.


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


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.