Last Thursday, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini gave a statement to the UN Security Council saying — as the agency has said every year for decades — that it is in existential danger.
There is plenty UNRWA can do to cut costs, though.
For example, it can end nearly all of its operations in Jordan, with some two million so-called refugees. The vast majority of them are Jordanian citizens, and UNRWA has never explained why it should provide services like schooling and free medical care to people who are full citizens of Jordan, and who are not refugees by any definition. Why should Palestinian children in Jordan attend different schools from other Jordanians? Why should they get free housing in “camps” when they have the same opportunities as other Jordanians?
The UNRWA recipients who live in the West Bank and Gaza are not refugees either — after all, they live in the areas of British Mandate Palestine. To call the descendants of those who left from the pre-1967 borders of Israel “refugees” is wrong, but it is even more absurd to consider them “internally displaced persons” after 73 years. They are citizens of “The State of Palestine.” They have passports recognized by most countries. They should be taken care of by their own governments of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Lazzarini touched upon how UNRWA’s Lebanon “refugees” are emigrating to Europe. What he didn’t mention is that most of the “registered refugees” have already left, but UNRWA still counts them as people they are helping. UNRWA claims to be helping 479,000 “refugees” in Lebanon, when the actual number is 300,000 less. Hundreds of thousands of UNRWA “registered refugees” live in Europe or the US, but UNRWA still claims them as their own. This would be considered a scandal for any other publicly-funded institution.
Also left unanswered is why the UN has one agency solely responsible for the education, housing, and medical care of Palestinians — but no other groups.
Lazzarini did, however, mention people who ask these tough questions about UNRWA.
“Coordinated campaigns to delegitimize UNRWA with a view to erode the rights of Palestine refugees are increasing in frequency and in maliciousness,” he told the Security Council.
I didn’t know that the many critics of UNRWA throughout the decades were part of a “coordinated campaign.” This is Elders of Zion-level conspiracy thinking.
Lazzarini also said, “Shifting geopolitical priorities, shifting regional dynamics, and the emergence of new humanitarian crises have deprioritized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” In plain English, this means that even though the world has much bigger problems and crises to deal with, it should prioritize Palestinians above all of them — because otherwise, the UNRWA budget would plummet.
And that is the key issue.
UNRWA’s existence implies that Palestinian “refugees” are more important, more desperate, needier, poorer, and hungrier than any other refugees and any current victims of war. But by any objective measure, the Palestinians are in better shape than the citizens of many poor countries. And the vast majority of UNRWA’s charges do not meet the definition of “refugee” in the Refugee Convention.
UNRWA was created to be a temporary agency. Lazzarini’s appeal is to ensure that it remains permanent, and that it continues to grow unimpeded, forever.
Therefore, it is up to the world that created UNRWA to create a plan to phase it out.