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The world’s preferred refugees

June 19, 2013 22:53

Unlike other refugees, the Palestinians have their own set of rules, their own funding and even their own international agency, the UNRWA.

Palestinian girl at UNRWA school [illustrative]

Palestinian girl at UNRWA school 311 Reu. (photo credit:Ali Hashisho / Reuters)

For millions of refugees, World Refugee Day is a day like any other. From Mali to South Sudan and from Myanmar to Haiti, countless men, women and children will once again awaken today to an uncertain future.

They are aided in their perilous journey by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which works with governments to advocate and seek asylum for all refugees. That is, all refugee groups but one.

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Set apart by the shortsighted interests of the Arab states, Palestinian refugees are the world’s only card-carrying, professional group of refugees.

Unlike other refugees, the Palestinians have their own set of rules, their own funding and even their own international agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or UNRWA. To paraphrase George Orwell, all refugees are equal, but some refugees are more equal than others.

In 2012, the United Nations spent six times more on every Palestinian refugee as compared to all other refugees. Like a favored child, the Palestinians have been on the UN’s permanent payroll for over 60 years and are entitled to every service from healthcare to housing and from food rations to education. When it comes to refugees from Syria or Somalia, responsibility falls to the host country to provide basic assistance.

While UNHCR’s approach teaches independence, UNRWA’s approach prepares the Palestinians to be lifelong dependents. Under UNRWA’s framework, Palestinians can continue to be called refugees long after they acquire citizenship and find permanent housing.

UNRWA’s humanitarian mission is undoubtedly important. However, it is being marred by its unspoken political motto of “once a refugee, always a refugee.” By allowing refugee status to pass to Palestinian children and grandchildren, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from a few hundred thousand in 1948 to over five million today. Left unchecked, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will continue to be added to the UN’s permanent payroll every year.

Instead of extending their hand in friendship, the Arab states employed the NIMBY strategy – Not In My Back Yard. Believing that the creation of UNRWA absolved them of any responsibility to their Palestinian brothers, the Arab states passed discriminatory laws. In Lebanon for example, Palestinian refugees are barred from working as doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers or accountants.

By making the Palestinians the poster children for international victimhood, the Arab states believe they hold a permanent trump card to defame and pressure Israel. While the Arab states are saturated in petrol dollars, the funds mysteriously dry up when it comes to assisting Palestinians and subsidizing UNRWA.

Scan the list of UNRWA’s top contributors and you’ll find it’s exclusively North American and West European countries.

The Arabs’ self-serving gesture comes at the expense of refugees in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East. Every news story and donation directed to UNRWA and its “pref-ugees” is awareness and funding diverted from refugees in urgent need of protection and assistance.

On World Refugee Day, we are asked to ensure that all people displaced by conflict have the chance to build a better life. It’s time to review the status quo and disrupt the senseless UNRWA cycle in which the money flows, the number grows, and absolutely anything goes.

The author is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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