Chilean Flag 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are 1.6 million people in the Gaza Strip, most of them in UNRWA (United
Nations Relief Works Agency) “refugee” camps.
With support from more than
35 major Western democracies, UNRWA could be dealing with the Palestinians in
the Gaza Strip from a strictly humanitarian point of view, and not as a
political organization that maintains refugees in “temporary”camps for 63 years
under the promise of return to villages from 1948 that no longer
Could UNRWA provide humanitarian aid without considering the
politics? Seeking an answer, we traveled to Chile.
Chile is the first
nation to welcome Palestinian refugees and rehabilitate them through a program
administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Under
this program, Palestinians in Chile received refugee status, with all the
relevant rights and privileges.
UNHCR helps Palestinians leave the UNRWA
refugee camps and settle in better conditions.
In Chile we met a
community of Palestinian refugee families, established by UNHCR, and we also met
UNHCR representative Fabio Varoli.
The refugee families lived in
Palestine until 1948, when they moved to Iraq. They got special privileges when
Sadam Hussein was dictator; but after his regime fell, they suffered from
threats, torture and isolation. As a result, most moved to the Iraq–Syria
border, where they lived in UNRWA refugee camps.
The Chilean government
sent delegates to these camps and offered the Palestinians a rehabilitation
plan. In 2008, thousands were transferred from Iraq to Chile.
Palestinian Refugees Rehabilitation Plan in Chile was the result of a
presidential decree implemented by the Chilean government. The government helped
refugees once they arrived, giving them a chance to build a better life there.
The VIARICA organization also participated in the project, which found
widespread support among Chilean citizens.
Varoli spoke about the warm
welcome given to the refugees, which included comprehensive media coverage. As part
of the rehabilitation plan, the refugees received a grant to buy an apartment,
find a job and classes to learn the local language. They also underwent a social
process that helped them create a productive life in their new
Currently, there are thousands of rehabilitated refugees in the
original community, and it is the largest outside the Arab world.
when their rehabilitation plan ends, they can still receive help. But most of
them do not really need it. As a result of the rehabilitation plan’s integrating
them into Chilean society, most are able to earn a respectable
The Chilean government gives them all the rights of foreign
residents. Most work in restaurants, supermarkets, stores, and as teachers in
When we visited the Hamlam family’s restaurant, we saw a
reflection of their lives as Palestinians: Arabic food, pictures of mosques,
even a flag of Palestine.
The restaurant is a popular place, and from
everything we saw, the Hamlam family seems to have succeeded in building a new
and better life in Chile.
They have formal documents from the Republic of
Chile (Cedula de Identidat Etranjero) recognizing them as residents.
document is valid for five years. In a year, they are supposed to get a Refugee
Certificate, and after seven years they will receive full
Varoli added: “Chile was the first state to welcome the
Palestinian refugees, and became an example for other nations that did not
accept refugees in the past. Now other nations are willing to welcome them,
following Chile’s example. In addition, this successful project is a good
example of collaboration between the Chilean government and the citizens of
Chile.“ In light of the success we saw in Chile, and the continuous failure in
the Gaza Strip, perhaps UNRWA could follow the example of UNHCR and use its
resources to create a better future for everyone, instead of relegating the
descendants of the 1948 war to yet another generation in limbo.The
writers are employees of the Sderot Media Center
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