Sunday, June 7, 2015

Exploding for Decades: UNRWA needs More, More, More - Arnold Roth

by Arnold Roth

UNRWA is sixty five yars old with a staff of over 30,000. Has it been doing its job?

The European Union's Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Christos Stylianides, made a heart-rending call in New York City on Tuesday (echoed in this EU media release press release) for: 
"donors to increase their efforts to mobilise extra funds to support UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Speaking at a 65th anniversary event in New York, he paid tribute to UNRWA, pointing out that the EU remained its largest donor[having] provided over €1.6 billion... mainly aiming to sustain the delivery of essential public services to the refugees... "Despite this substantial support, we know that EU contributions alone are not enough to meet the increasing needs of the Agency"...

Additional funds were essential, he said: 'This will allow Palestinian refugees to continue benefiting from basic services. And to have a perspective for human development.'"

As sixty-five year olds go, UNRWA shows no real signs of slowing down. That's noteworthy when we remind ourselves that its supposed purpose in life, as expressed in UN Resolution A/RES/302 (IV) of December 8, 1949, is

"relief of the Palestine refugees... to prevent conditions of starvation and distress among them and to further conditions of peace and stability, and that constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief..."

Termination is, 65 years later, nowhere in sight. UNRWA today is the UN's single largest agency. It employs a staff of more than 30,000, of whom 99% are locally recruited Palestinians [Wikipedia]. 
It's not the United Nations' only refugee agency, as most people know. By far the more significant one is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a body which merely deals with all the world's refugees. By contrast, UNRWA supports one class of refugees only:

"Palestine refugees... defined as 'persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict'".

Amazing really. If you had lived there for two years, you were entitled to UNRWA support, and so are your children, and their great-great-great grandchildren. The UN defined Palestine refugee status to be something you inherited... forever. And that's just one of a long list of criticisms --

But our focus in this post is money.

When the EU's Mr Stylianides asked for more donations, it might have been a real service if he had shone a small spotlight on who gives the money for this bizarre organization today. And who does not. And on the fact that funding emergencies are a routine thing for UNRWA officials.

Those Palestinian Arabs who depend on UNRWA probably consider themselves lucky to be part of the oil-soaked Arab world and its uber-wealthy potentates. UN announcements about UNRWA's future (articles like "Arab and Other Donors Vow Increased Support for UNRWA", September 27, 2013) probably fill their hearts with pride and optimism. How great to be part of a people that knows how to look after its own and never stints on the belt-tightening that this calls for.

OK, we're being deeply cynical. According to the latest published list of major donors to UNRWA [2013 donations - source], the money for its work comes from these entities, ranked in order of money given:

Donor                 Donation USD

USA                     294,023,401
EC                       216,386,867
Saudi Arabia       151,566,702
UK                         93,737,454
Sweden                 54,439,768
Germany               53,061,050
Norway                 34,595,162
Japan                   28,836,915
Switzerland          23,267,282
Australia              22,445,260
Netherlands        20,049,472
Denmark            18,638,884
Kuwait                17,000,000
France                12,852,039
Italy                     10,714,805
Belgium               10,271,039
Finland                  9,073,004
Ireland                   7,374,523
Palestine (!)           6,841,219
Turkey                   6,475,000
Total                   1,091,649,846

(Is the EU the largest provider of funds to UNRWA, as Mr Stylianides said above? Probably. Precise definitions tend to get lost in public discussions, especially when the issues are subject to political push/pull. It's not that important to our discussion.)

Here is UNRWA's 2012 table (when Saudi Arabi appeared on the list as the sole Arab government). And here is the table from 2010 (when not a single Arab government made it onto the list).  By the way, there's no point in over-exerting ourselves to locate the champions of the Palestinian Arab cause, the phenomenally super-wealthy sheikhdoms and Persian Gulf family-businesses-posing-as-states on these donor lists. Qatar, and the other ruling/owning families, clearly have (ahem) other priorities.

Meanwhile the number of "Palestinian refugees" has been exploding for decades. According to UNRWA's published data:

"In May 1951, UNRWA inherited a list of 950,000 persons from its predecessor agencies. In the first four months of operations, UNRWA reduced this list to 860,000 persons, based on painstaking census efforts and identification of fraudulent claims. The 1948 registered refugees and their descendants now number five million,"

Having multiplied itself by nearly six in these 6+ decades of furthering "conditions of peace and stability" and funding by others, does anyone imagine this number of beneficiaries is about to get smaller? Ever?

Now imagine how deep and wide the support for UNRWA would be if it lived up to those goals it set for itself decades ago.

Arnold Roth


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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