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Refugee camp Photo: AP
Refugee camp Photo: AP

Don’t blame UNRWA

Op-ed: suggestion that UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism, terrorism lazily pedals old myths

Chris Gunness
Published: 06.14.11, 19:05 / Israel Opinion

Ynetnews’ recent article, “The Arab refugee swindle” by Moshe Dann, fundamentally fails to understand international law, UNRWA’s mandate and its day-to-day operations.


All refugee communities, whether those under the care of UNRWA or UNHCR, have their refugee status passed through the generations while their plight remains unresolved. Refugees in Kenya administered by UNHCR are a good example. In this regard, the accusation that UNRWA uniquely perpetuates the Palestine refugee problem is ignorant of international refugee law and practice.

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Any suggestion that UNRWA is complicit in promoting anti-Semitism or terrorism lazily pedals old myths and fails to take account of the invaluable “neutrality” work that we carry out in our installations, whereby international UN staff work tirelessly, regularly inspecting our facilities, immediately rectifying any issues that come to light.


Our strenuous efforts to assure the neutrality not just of our facilities, but also of our staff, are regularly reported to our major donors, included the United States, to their satisfaction. In addition, we teach human rights and peaceful conflict resolution every day to some 500,000 children in the Arab states and territories around Israel, encouraging in the next generation the belief in a peaceful and stable future. Here our contribution IS unique.


The article in question uses the phrase “UNRWA backed towns in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the PA administered territory.” Such phraseology is so bafflingly ungrounded in reality that it is hard to know where to begin to unpack its ignorance. Similarly, Mr. Dann uses the phrase “UNRWA-sponsored camps.” This also appears ignorant of the fact that we do not “sponsor” or run camps, but we do administer facilities such as schools and clinics within them. Oddly, this point is made by Mr. Dann himself in the preceding paragraph.


On the question of resettling refugees, all internationally accepted paradigms for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict envisage the refugee question being resolved in the context of a just and durable solution, based on UN resolutions and international law, agreed by the parties and in consultation with the refugees. It is the failure of the parties to reach such an agreement that is perpetuating the refugee crisis.


A neutral UN human development and humanitarian agency whose work promotes universal values in the Middle East cannot be blamed. Any suggestion that such an agency, working with the most marginalized communities in this troubled region, should be deprived of funds is irresponsible.


The conclusion that this would somehow promote “peace and prosperity” does not stand up to serious scrutiny.


Chris Gunness is UNRWA’s spokesman




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