الساعة 10:53:مساءً / الجمعة, 22 تشرين الثاني 2019

حسب توقيت القدس الشريف

b_300_200_16777215_00_images__.jpeg Association 302 to Defend Refugee Rights

Press Conference to Launch Report on

Repercussions of UNRWA's Political and Financial crisis on Palestinian refugees’situation in 2018

Beirut – Mar Elias Palestinian Refugee Camp – BeitAtfalAssumoud Hall

The report includes Palestinian refugees in UNRWA's five areas of operation

(West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon)

In addition to Egypt and Iraq

Key Outcomes of the Report:

1 – An unprecedented systematic and organized American and Israeli targeting to the Agency.

2- A remarkable political, popular and diplomatic support from Arab and Western countries.

3 - Decline in the provision of services.

4 - A disturbing gradual progression towards Agency’s "Arabization"

• Introduction

The year 2018 is considered one of the toughest years ever on UNRWA as a result of an unprecedented political and financial crisis experienced by the Agency since its establishment in 1949. UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl described it as a serious "existential crisis".

Due to the strategic importance and the prominent and vital role of the UNRWA on Palestinian refugees at the political, humanitarian and legal level and its connection to the right of return, and following the level of attack on the Agency in 2018, which we expect toperpetuate in 2019, the Association 302decided to launch an analytical report on the repercussions of UNRWA’s political and financial crisisonthe situation of the Palestinian refugees during the year 2018.

The report, released on January 23,2019, from Mar Elias refugee camp in Lebanon under the kind patronage of the Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad,outlines the dimensions and magnitude of the targeting, the implications of the decline in services, the challenges ahead and proposes solutions to the non-recurrence of the crisis. The report will be presented to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterich, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl andto all political, popular, legal, diplomatic, official and press media authorities.

           

We are grateful to the following seven fellow academic researchers of Palestinian refugees fromtheseven regions who participated in the preparation of this report, its conclusions and recommendations:

 Members of Association 302 Advisory Committee:

• Mr. Maher Qandil from Egypt

• Ms.Fadwa Al-Shurafa from Gaza

• Mr. Mohammed Al-Shouli from Lebanon

• Mr. Mohamed Mushinash from Iraq

• Mr. Ibrahim Al-Ali from Syria, Head of Research Departmentat the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria.

In addition to the participation of:

• Dr. HaneenTirawi from the West Bank

• Mr. Mahmoud Fahmawi from Jordan


• Report Summary:

UNRWA’s establishment under UN Resolution 302 of 1949 is related to Resolution 194 of 1948 which stressed upon the Palestinians’ right of return, compensation and restitution of property. Moreover, the preamble of Resolution 302, in addition to paragraphs 5 and 20, refer to the implementation of Resolution 194. Hence, UNRWA’s dissolution is linked to the implementation of the right of return.

The UNRWA provides its services to more than 6 million Palestinian refugees registered in its five areas of operation (West Bank, East Jerusalem, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza), who live in 58 camps and hundreds of other groupings. It provides free education to 526,000 students and employs approximately 30,000 employees out of whom 97% are Palestinian refugees.

First in the summary:

• US-Israeli targeting of UNRWA

Not only did the US administration cut off its financial support to the UNRWA, which reached US$60 million in 2018 out of the US$360 ​​million it used to pay annually to the Agency's Fund, which constituted about 30% of the general budget; but the US is now targeting the Agency at the core of its work and performance by questioning its mandate and functions. It tried in 2018 to distort its image in order to dissolve it as a prelude to dissolve Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

The targeting of the Agency by the Israeli Occupation State was not less important. It was accompanied by the targeting of the refugeesissue and the right of return in line with the so-called "century deal" which was first mentioned when Trump came to the US presidency in November 2016. In fact, the process of targeting and attempting to liquidate the refugees issue through resettlement and the cancellation of the right of return is a systematic, revived and complex strategic political project. Since long time, The Occupation, the American administration and their allies have been working in secret and in public employing a number of measures. One of these insane measures was to target the UNRWA in 2018, with a view to removing international responsibility for the Palestinian refugee issue embodied by this agency.


The peak of the targeting of UNRWA by the Occupying State started by Benyamin Netanyahou on January 7, 2018, calling on former United Nations representative at the United Nations, Nikki Haley, to work on dismantling the UNRWA, claiming that “UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem, and perpetuates also the right of return, which aim at the elimination of Israel. For these reasons, UNRWA should be shut down”, and “the United States mustgradually reduce its support for the UN’s aid agency for the Palestinians by transferring thatfinancial aid to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR”, declaring hissupport for the sharp criticism of Trump to UNRWA, and considering that the UNRWA was created 70 years ago only for Palestinian refugees, while the UNHCR is for other refugees in the world, leading to a situation whereby, “the great-grandchildren of refugees, who are not themselves refugees, are cared for by UNRWA, and in 70 more years there will be great-grandchildren of those great-grandchildren — and so this absurdity has to end” according to Netanyahu.On the other hand, at the end of 2018, a study center connected to the Israeli Occupationwent to the extent of accusing UNRWA of "Anti-Semitism".

The continual existence of UNRWA undermines the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation state and invalidates its membership in the United Nations. This is considered one of the most important legal effects that the Zionist occupation seeks to achieve by ending the existence of the Agency, and furthermore, to ensure its legal legitimacy and safety of its membership in the United Nations after its refusal to implement Resolution 194.

This means that the UNRWA crisis is not merely a financial or administrative one, as much as it is a product of a systematic political and strategic targeting.

Second: How did UNRWA deal with the financial crisis?

On January 22, 2018,UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, launched a fundraising campaign for the Agency, which he called “Dignity is Priceless”. As a result of the campaign and the tours of the Commissioner-General and his Work Group in donor countries, in addition to broadening the donor panel by participating in donors’ conferences and in the agency’s Advisory Committee (Rome, UN General Assembly, Oman, Cairo and Sweden), the Agency managed to overcome the financial crisis by reducing the fiscal deficit from US$ 446 million at the beginning of 2018 to US$ 21 million by November of the same year, and obtaineddistinct diplomatic, political, moral and monetary support from donor countries. Moreover, it confirmed that the Palestinian refugee's son and grandson still have a refugee status in its response to the US administration and its attempts to redefine the refugee. The UNRWA was also able to sign multi-year agreements with some countries to support the Agency financially, but this climate was at the expense of a decline, quantitatively and qualitatively, in the provision of services. The UNRWA managed to provide US$ 92 million in all its areas of operations, with the understanding that it is not a domestic organization or a charity, and therefore, it is not mandated to provide its own budget. Basically, the United Nations has the responsibility to provide the funds required, and any effort by the Agency to collect the necessary funds is an additional effort that does not exempt the United Nations, which is supposed to draw up its plan in coordination with UNRWA to overcome any expected fiscal deficit.

• Third: Arab States and financial contributions:

In a remarkable development in 2018, four Arab countries took the initiative to pay about half of UNRWA's financial deficit (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait, paying US$ 50 million each); which represents more than 25% of the Agency's fiscal deficit.This is a positive initiative on the humanitarian level for the services it temporarily provides toPalestinian refugees, but the US administration's call on Arab countries to fund the UNRWA, even slamming them in the Security Council through the former United Nations representative at the United Nations, Nikki Haley, at the end of July 2018, who said that Arab countries are “not doing enough for Palestinians”.Such statement, in parallel with the suspension of its financial contribution, can only be considered as a trap by the US aimed at evading international responsibility for the refugees issue andtheir rights by gradually turning them into an Arab and Palestinian issue. We are concerned that this will perpetuate throughout 2019 and beyond.

• Fourth: UNRWA Advisory Committee and its dealing with the crisis:

Turkey succeeded in overcoming the first and most severe test in a short period of time. It took over the chairmanship of the UNRWA Advisory Committee from the Arab Republic of Egypt onthe 1st of July 2018 for a period of one year. Turkey played an important role in the preparations and outcome of the donor conference held on September 28, 2018 in New York, on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly together with Sweden, Jordan, Japan and the European Community, it was announced then that thebudget deficit was reduced from US$ 446 million to US$ 64 million.

• Fifth: Failure of Israeli occupation diplomacy to end UNRWA:

Overcoming theAgency’sfinancial crisis was a heavy blow to the Israeli occupation diplomacy, and it constituted a failure of the policy and plan of the Israeli entity. The Deputy Foreign Minister of the occupation State announced in front of the ambassadors of the Israeli entity in European countries, America and Arab countries with whom she met in occupied Jerusalem in the beginning of 2018, that the occupation diplomacy for 2018 was based on two issues; first,the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and second that the UNRWA era has ended forever, which of course was not the case. The UNRWA remained and did not end. Hence,the occupation diplomacy has failed.

• Sixth: Failure of the US administration to distort the UNRWA image:

The ability to overcome the financial crisis and the international moral and diplomatic support of the Agency have brought down the arrogance of the American administrationthat tried through the means of cheap political extortion to trade the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian refugees by introducing the Agency into the game of political rivalries between the Palestinian Authority and the occupied Israeli entity.

According to former American representative at the United Nations Nikki Haley on 2 January 2018, the return of US administration's contribution to funding UNRWA's budget depends on the return of the Palestinian negotiator to the negotiating table with the Israeli entity, which has not been achieved. The United States Administration took hence its unequivocal decision to suspend its annual financial contribution to the Agency on 31 August 2018 after a series of accusations and attempts to distort the image and work of the UNRWA schools, health centers and emergency assistance programs. The State Department September 1, 2018 described them as“irredeemably flawed". This has been preceded by accusing the UNRWA of corruption, supporting terrorism, perpetuating the refugee issue and other accusations voiced by US officials (National Security Advisor John Bolton, Senior Advisor to the President of the United States Jared Kushner, Trump's Middle East envoy Greenblatt, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and others).

Seventh: European Union and donor countries:

The majority of UN Member States believe that UNRWA is a vital and urgent humanitarian need for more than 6 million registered Palestinian refugees, and that the Agency is a component of security and stability in the region. This group represents the majority of the member states in the U.N, and at the top of them the European Union. This considerably outweighs the group which follows the US administration, the Israeli occupation stateand its allies that target the agency. Hence, some countries have provided their financial contributions to the Agency in advance, such as the Netherlands, Kuwait, Russia, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Ireland.

• Eighth: Increased awareness towards the UNRWA:

The crisis that shook the Agency in 2018 contributed to the strategic awareness of the importance of the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency, the remarkable support of local and international NGOs with the Agency, and the important support expressed by the national popular movement among the refugees in the camps, communities and regions, in addition to the unanimity of all Palestinian political stripes to adhere to the Agency on the base of "disagreeing with the agency but not about it."

• UNRWA and refugees in its five areas of operation:

In all the conferences held during the year 2018, apart from the statements issued, the host countries expressed their dissatisfaction with the American decision to suspend financial contributions to the UNRWA Fund and its strong support for UNRWA and the need to continue its services, especially Jordan, which hosts the largest number of refugees. Indeed,similar countries are unable to bear the burden of refugees, calling, hence, for the continuation of the Agency’s work until the implementation of Resolution 194, which stressed the right of return, compensation and restoration of property.

On the other hand, the UNRWA had not updated its official datafor two years which pointed out the number of Palestinian refugees registered in its five areas of operation and the number of personnel, programs, services and budgets. The last update was on January 1, 2017. It indicated that the number of Palestinian refugees registered in UNRWA's five areas of operations was 5,869,733, which means that the number now exceeds 6 million. In the past, the Agency used to update its data every three months, then every four months, then, twice a year, then once a year! This lack of tracking is quite surprising, and we were unable to get a satisfying answer from the agency about its cause.

After a three-year suspension, the UNRWA administration announced in August 2018 that the "exceptional voluntary leave" program for Jordan and the West Bank staff would first be activated, followed in September 2018 with a generalization covering all areas of its operations. Moreover, employees whose services are discontinued according to the program are not being replaced by new ones, in which case the program’s burdens will be handled by other staff.

1. Gaza Strip:

July 25, 2018 is considered the most dangerous day on Gaza Strip as the UNRWA administration decided to lay off 116 staff members of the emergency program, transferred 570 staff members on a part-time basis, and270 employees on the remaining programs until the end of 2018 with no guaranteesfor continuation of continuation until the end of the year. Negotiations between the staff union in Gaza and the UNRWA administration to resolve the problem of emergency personnel were ongoing until this current press conference was prepared, despite the launching of Association 302initiative to resolve the crisis of emergency staff, which has received considerable popular acceptance, including the Agency's staff union. Nevertheless, it didn’t receive the approval of the UNRWA administration. The agency has also suspended the confirmation of 97 engineers, some of whom had worked for 7 years on a limited term contract that was renewed every 6 months. They were promised fixed employment in late 2017. This has led to the disruption of a major step in rebuilding the Gaza Strip, where 50,000 homes still require partial or total reconstruction.

2- Syria:

UNRWA announced on 13 November 2018 the suspension of 108 staff out of 132 working in the distribution of food aid to refugees. The reasonwas that there would be a reduction of food aid,and therefore, they wouldn’t be needed anymore. The employees had been working in the Agency for 5 years and their contracts were renewed annually, but by the beginning of 2018 the contents of the contract had been amended to become a limited term contract. In the same context, the head of the UNRWA agency in Damascus granteda delay for all Palestinian refugee teachers, who had left Syria to Lebanon as a result of the war, until the end of 2017, to return to work.

In November 2018, Syria witnessed a significant positive development as the Syrian government allowedthe UNRWA to reconstruct the 32 facilities in the Yarmouk camp and to allow refugees to return to the camp.A dental clinic was opened in Al-Muzayrib community for Palestinian refugeesand a kindergarten in Homs camp. Moreover, extracurricular activities were organized in Homs, Hama and Qudsayasuburb. Consequently, UNRWA is now required to increase the amount of help for food, clothing, shelter and medicine, in line with the rising cost of living due to widespread unemployment.It must not jeopardize the employment status of staff, and must grant them adequate security, which ensures to promote ideally the services offered to the refugees.It should coordinate with the UNHCR to registerthe refugees who have been forced to migrate from Syria to Egypt, where they are outside the mandate of UNRWA.

3. The West Bank and East Jerusalem:

In October 2018, the mayor of Jerusalem declared his intention to terminate the work of UNRWA in occupied Jerusalem. In an attempt to assign a role to the occupation instead of the UNRWA, staff from the Israeli municipality cleaned up the Shu'fat refugee camp in a move,which was denounced by the popular committees,and condemned by the residents. The Mayor and Israeli soldiers broke into the UNRWA clinic in Jerusalem in the Indian corner area;an action repudiated and denounced bythe Agency.

The Agency suspended protection services for refugees residing in 46 Bedouin communities, stopped food rations which used to be distributed every three months, and suspended the mental health program and mobile health clinics.

Those reduction steps pursued by the Agency in the communities, apart from the economic and social damage they caused to the refugees,they also,undoubtedly,served the Israeli occupationfirst by removing a number of Palestinian Bedouin communities in East Jerusalem.

As a result of these cutbacks, the two most affected sectors were the education and health sectors. Some relief and employment programs and other necessary services pertinent to refugees in the West Bankwere cancelled, whileothers were reduced. The Agency cancelled the program of paid work, which harmed the category of individuals who did not have a certificate or a profession. Environmental health was also affected by the shortage of waste collectors which led towaste accumulation in the camps. Fixed employment was suspendedsince the beginning of 2018 and only employment was opened on a limited-term contract. The number of school students increased.Sometimes 60 studentswere crowdedin one classroomdue to the inability to provide sufficient number of professional teachers.In other cases (as in the Jalazone camp); the basic school was divided into two schoolsin order to accommodate the large number of students because the Agency was not able to build a new school or expand the old one. Medicines for chronic diseases and therapeutic drugs have been cut for a long time, driving patients toturn to governmental clinics, thus adding additional pressure and burdens to government clinics and the Ministry of Health. UNRWA provides a number of treatment remittances to the neediest refugees with low standard of living. Despite its crisis, the UNRWA didn’t stop its remittances;nevertheless, it has not been able to increase the number of beneficiaries.

4- Jordan:

One of the most serious cutbacks in Jordan occurred in January 2018, when the UNRWA laid off more than 100 staff members, suspended appointments referring it to the "need" within the so-called cost control measures of services provided to refugees.

The decision extendedto all 13 camps in the Kingdom, "the layoffs of 30 workers in Al-Baqa'a refugee camp out of 92, 14 workers in Al-Wihdat camp out of 39, 7 in the Irbid camp out of 17, 7 in Husn camp out of 22, A worker in the Al-Hussein camp out of 27, 8 workers in Gaza camp out of 22, 3 workers in Souf camp out of 15, and 17 workers in Marka camp out of 40 Palestinian refugees.

5. Lebanon

UNRWAabolished jobs in the office machinery and equipment maintenance at Lebanon-Beirut office, and permanently stopped recruitingorfilling vacancies from the employees themselves. Moreover, it decided to suspend the extension of service tothose reaching 60 years,versus 62 years formerly. The UNRWA also increased school teaching classes of teachers in the basic education to 27 weekly,forcing secondary school teachers to teach 22 weekly classes instead of 18 and materials not relevant to their specialties. It merged some schoolswith each other to be under one supervision and management despite the large numberof students, like "Al-Qastal Secondary School and the Nablus School in Jalilcamp ". It still ignores to employ on a fixed term basis 170 teachers who work on a daily basis and who aregraduated from theSiblinTraining Center for the four sessions of 2008-2011.

It also decided to reduce working days in its clinics in the Palestinian communities, merging some clinics with each other. The responsibility was   distributed among doctors available in other areas, such as "one cardiologist for the region of Tire, Sidon and Beirut". The Agency also reduced some monthly medicines in clinics to the minimum, and there is a serious shortage in most of them (hypertension and lipid-lowering medication).

The distribution of goods and supplies to eligible refugees was canceled and replaced by cash disbursements to beneficiaries through ATM cards, which are estimated at US$ 11 monthly per person. This amount does not have the purchasing power to buy the same quantity of goods due to the big difference between wholesale and retail prices.

The EU-funded university scholarship program, which at best covered between 30 and 50 university scholarships, had been abruptly discontinued since 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, and UNRWA is no longer providing any new scholarship.

The process of reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared camp is still proceeding at a slow pace, because of the complex bureaucracy. The approval of the Central Engineering Department in Amman has to be obtained for the designs prepared for the remaining packages. Afterward the Civil Planning Directorate in Lebanon and the Directorate of Antiquities and other relevant parties must also provide their consent. These measures delay the launching of any new package, especially since there are still two large packages, the sixth and seventh packages.Certainly, this delay has negative repercussions on the level ofthe refugees humanitarian needs, especially in light of the cancellation of the emergency program for the camp residents and in result a decline in services provided to them, especially the accommodation allowance.

6 –Further restrictions on Palestinian refugees living in Iraq, outside UNRWA's area of operation:

The number of Palestinian refugees in Iraq before the US invasion reached about 40,000, now there are about 4,000 refugees. According to Law No. 202 issued by the Iraqi Parliament on 12/3/2001, the Palestinian refugee in Iraq is treated asan Iraqi citizen except for Military Service, nationality and political action. On December 20, 2017, the Iraqi parliament ratified Law No. 76, under which Law No. 202 was abolished to define the Palestinian refugee in Iraq as a foreigner, who hasthe same rights and duties of any other foreigner. Some have described the new law as racial and inhumane aimed at expelling the remaining Palestinian refugees In Iraq, since under the new law the ration card has been withheld from the refugee, in addition to depriving the family of the retired employee of his salary, and his heirs of any privileges after his death. Moreover, after being exempted,health and education fees and services were re-imposed, and the engineer, doctor orteacher wasnot allowed membershiptorelevant trade unions.If a Palestinian wants to open businessnowadays, he needs an Iraqi guarantor and hence permission from the Ministries of Social Affairs and Interior,in addition to a residency permitwhich has to be renewed every three months. This necessitates an expansion of the Agency's work policy: firstly to include the registration of refugees outside the areas of UNRWA operations, including Iraq, and secondly, to provide all types of protection, including physical protection.

7. Refugees in Egypt with a coordination office for "UNRWA" and without services:

Egypt is outside the UNRWA operation area despite the existence of an UNRWA coordinating office. The number of Palestinian refugees in Egypt after the Nakbain 1948 reached about 30,000 refugees. Until 1960, and because of the reunion plan launched by the Arab League, the number dropped to approximately 15,500 refugees.In 1967 the number reached 33,000 refugees, and now according to the estimates of 2018 there are about 250,000 refugees not registered in UNRWA records, and thus not receiving any services at the level of economic and social rights, especially international protection.Hence, the need is urgent and pressing to include Palestinian refugees in Egypt to the records of the Agency while maintaining the refugee status of every Palestinian refugee married to an Egyptian.The UNRWAisalso blamed for not seriously interfering to coordinate with UNHCR Refugees to register about 6,000 Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria to Egypt in UNHCR records, as they are outside the areas of its operations.

Soon the full and detailed reports on the seven regions will be published.

        Recommendations:

In order to avoid repeating the financial and political predicament faced by the Agency and the harm it causes to employees, refugees and nationals, we must note that, 69 years after the establishment of the UNRWA, the Agency's current tasks at the level of funding and temporary work are no longer valid after 70 years of the Nakba, with the doubling of the number of Palestinian refugees and the increase in their suffering and needs, and hence it is time to adjust the Agency's operation policy, to be permanent andto workon the following:

1. Transforming the Agency's budget into an adequate, sustainable and predictable budget, as confirmed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Guterres, in his report to the General Assembly in April 2017, or at least to makecountries’ contributions to UNRWA's budget mandatory instead of voluntary.

2. Extending the Agency's legal policy to include legal and physical protection, not just humanitarian assistance; supporting the implementation of resolution 194 of 1948, in addition to Security Council resolution 237 (1967);referring toUNRWA the responsibility to protect the property and management of refugees and displaced persons in the occupied Palestinian Interior, and practically transferring the responsibility of International Organization for Palestine Committee to the UNRWA.

3. Investing in the Palestinian national, political, diplomatic and popular consensus that was formedspecificallyin the year 2018 in support of UNRWA by initiating a national strategic plan for the protection of UNRWA that will be able to maintain the continuity of the Agency's work until the return of refugees, especially that public action alone is not enough.

4. Emphasizing the unequivocal rejection to transfer UNRWA services to host countries or its "Arabization" or the formation of "financial funds" as an alternative to countries’ contributions or the transfer of services to any of the international organizations or bodies, or local and international NGOs.

5. Redefining Palestinian refugees and displaced persons at the political level associated with displacement and uprooting, rather than the humanitarian level as currently defined by the UNRWA,and effectively expanding the Agency's geographic scope to include the approximately 8 million Palestinian refugees inside and outside Palestine, including internally displaced persons in OccupiedAreas since 1948, and not only refugees registered with UNRWA in its five areas of operations.

6. The immediate reversal of all decisions taken by the Agency in 2018 due to the fiscal deficit after the financial breakthrough was achieved.

7. Forming a decentralized media channel to protect UNRWA represented by public, press media, legal, political and diplomatic activities, and activities at the Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and international levels. Those individual and collective initiatives aim to achieve support and are considered as innovative steps towards investing in the United Nations General Assembly, and to propose a draft resolution to fulfill the demands of the refugees in the future.

Association 302 to defend the rights of refugees

Beirut on 23/1/2019