When UNRWA tried to resettle Palestinian refugees
The 1952 UNRWA annual report includes sections on all areas where it had operations – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
And, for the last time, Israel.
We’ve discussed Israel before. In UNRWA’s words, “Late in June, an agreement was concluded with Israel whereby that Government assumed responsibility for the care of the remaining 19,000 refugees in that country as of 1 July, 1952.” Israel naturalized its Palestinian Arab refugees, unlike most Arab nations.
But why did UNRWA have operations in Iraq and Libya?
Because, back in its early days, UNRWA actually tried to help resettle refugees anywhere it could, much like UNHCR has done ever since.
Here’s what it said:
73. There are approximately 5,000 refugees under the care of the Government in Iraq. UNRWA has an office in Baghdad which serves as a placement centre and a point of contact with technical assistance experts working on Iraq’s great schemes of economic development.
74. The Agency understands that the doors of the country are open to Palestinians with skills who wish to go there without prejudice to their political position. In fact, the Government advises that there has already been some movement of this nature. This opportunity for refugees to improve their living conditions is of special interest to the Agency in connexion with the new programme plans for large scale vocational training.
75. The Agency is advised that there are opportunities for refugees in Libya and has received many requests for help from Palestinians who wish to go there. The new Government of Libya has suggested that initially 1,200 families of agriculturists and artisans might be taken care of. The Agency has already made preliminary surveys and is now ready for active operations.
So what happened?
The 1953 report is not available online any more. The 1954 report added no new information but it stilll mentioned them.
The 1955 report shows that UNRWA still supported the idea of the refugees moving elsewhere, even if it was starting to give up on finding those places themselves:
A total of 221 refugees who had secured immigration visas through their own efforts had their fares paid by the Agency and received installation grants during the year under review. They went to Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Kuwait, Liberia, El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tanganyika, the United States of America and Venezuela.
The 1956 report showed that UNRWA similarly helped about a thousand refugees move to some 13 countries including the US, UK and Canada.
But by 1957, UNRWA gave up, as quoted here:
[I]n spite of the fact that many are establishing themselves in new lives, the refugees collectively remain opposed to certain types of self-support projects which they consider would mean permanent resettlement and the abandonment of hope of repatriation. They are, in general, supported in this stand by the Arab host Governments. On the other hand, the Government of Israel has taken no affirmative action in the matter of repatriation and compensation. It remains the Director’s opinion that, unless the refugees are given the choice between repatriation and compensation provided for in resolution 194 (III), or unless some other solution acceptable to all parties is found, it would be unrealistic for the General Assembly to believe that decisive progress can be accomplished by UNRWA towards the “reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement” in line with General Assembly resolution 393 (V) of 2 December 1950.
The idea that the refugees themselves opposed resettlement in other countries is one of those factoids that UNRWA asserted from the beginning but without ever actually doing a survey. By 1957, the organization simply decided that the Arab world would never integrate the Palestinians, so all pressure would henceforth be directed at Israel for accepting the mythical “right of return.”
The “resettlement” that was envisioned by the UN and that was part of UNRWA’s mandate was simply swept under the rug. And UNRWA silently stopped providing monetary support for refugees to move outside its areas of operations, a policy that remains in place today.
Nowadays, UNRWA actually tries to use the fear of more Arab refugees going to Europe as an excuse to raise money to keep them stateless and living in miserable camps in the Middle East – the exact opposite of what a proper refugee agency would do.
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