Jerusalem, December 19 – The United Nations agency tasked with caring for the descendants of Arab refugees from the 1948 war over Israel’s creation has broadened its unique definition of “refugee” to include the animals and other possessions of the existing refugee population.
While the other refugee agency of the UN, which handles every other class of refugee, restricts aid eligibility to those who actually fled a conflict zone and possibly their children, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) specifically places no limit on the number of generations that have passed since the flight from what became Israel took place. The UNRWA mandate differs from the High Commission on Refugees in that the latter strives to resolve a given refugee population’s status as quickly as possible, primarily by enlisting states to accept them as citizens. UNRWA, however, is instrumental in keeping Palestinian refugees stateless and dependent; it therefore developed its most recent eligibility expansion to handle shifting realities in the camps it administers.
The expansion to include household pets such as cats, sheep, goats, donkeys, mice, and crows emerged amid the realization that confronting refugee groups over alleged fraud would spark unpleasantness. As the organization’s mission is to foster an uncompromising sense of entitlement among the recipients of its aid, the administration sought a compromise in which claimants of UNRWA benefits would not engage in fraud, while at the same time the organization would be able to verify the existence of every dependent. The inclusion of pets, and of furniture and home appliances larger than a standard immersion blender, allows Palestinian refugees to demonstrate the existence of each dependent, or, failing that, to obtain one for each claim within a short time.
The compromise policy is aimed both at accommodating the burgeoning Palestinian refugee population and forestalling criticism from international bodies over accountability for the agency’s use of its funding. Concerns over inappropriate use of UNRWA’s budget to fund objectionable activities has garnered attention from various quarters, and the organization believes the expansion of the new expansion of refugee status will provide the necessary cover to stave off unwanted scrutiny.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told reporters the new aid criteria are actually more conservative than some had wanted. “Truth is we wanted to have a much more comprehensive roster of possessions and animal dependents,” he said. “But our aid recipients objected to having apes and pigs on the list, since they associate those animals with Jews, and of course we can’t offend our bos- I mean the people who receive our aid.”