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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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