The crisis has resurfaced once again after the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reduced its health services in Lebanon. Now the Lebanese arena is witnessing a number of ongoing protests and events held by civil society organisations concerned with refugee affairs. We are also seeing official meetings between the Palestinian factions and the UNRWA Commissioner-General aimed at asking him to back down from his decision to reduce the health services under the pretext of the lack of the required funds.
The problem of the declining budgets faced by UNRWA has taken on a recurring seasonal pattern. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, under the pretext of a lack of the necessary budget at the time, UNRWA was on the verge of closing all of its schools that are attended by about 480,000 students in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, where 32,000 Palestinian refugees study in 68 UNRWA schools.
We notice that the decline in UNRWA’s services under the pretext of a reduction or lack of funds began to escalate in recent years to coincide with the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as the increased security and political tension in the Middle East. The region is witnessing consecutive waves of displacement and refugees in a phenomenon worse than that in WWII. This raises questions regarding the timing of UNRWA’s reduction of its humanitarian services generally in all the areas containing Palestinian refugees, especially in Lebanon.
Looking at the Palestinian refugee issue in Lebanon and the circumstances surrounding them, I note the following observations:
First, the state of Lebanon prevents Palestinian refugees living in the country from working in 70 jobs.
Secondly, Lebanon deprives Palestinian refugees from the right to own property, even if it’s so they can live in it.
Thirdly, the situation in the Palestinian refugee camps is very difficult and miserable. This is due to the low level of services, the serious overpopulation and overcrowding, the lack of suitable housing and decent living, the deteriorating infrastructure, the increased cases of school drop outs, social unrest, etc.
Fourth, the Lebanese state is witnessing security tensions and political concerns given the consequences of the Syrian crisis and Hezbollah’s military intervention in favour of the Syrian regime.
Fifth, the general economic situation in Lebanon is very bad given the fact that tourism stopped five years ago, those with capital fled the country, the disruption of the state’s constitutional institutions’ work, especially given the presidential vacuum, the failure to elect a new parliament, and the paralysis of the Lebanese consensus government.
Therefore, we are facing a repelling local and regional atmosphere that does not provide a sense of security and stability. If we add this to UNRWA’s policy of reducing or completely stopping its services, as was anticipated last year, that would be a blatant invitation for Palestinian refugees benefitting from UNRWA’s services or working in its institutions to think about and look for other options outside of Lebanon, including seeking refuge in Europe, Australia, or Canada. We are already seeing this within the refugee communities, as they are queuing for long hours in front of foreign embassies and taking steps to travel from northern Lebanon by sea to Turkey and Greece.
If many Palestinian refugees in Syria migrated as a result of the war, which is still ongoing and destroying all crops and cattle, then this is a result of a plan prepared to vacate the vital political geography of the Palestinians surrounding historical Palestine in preparation for eliminating the right of return.
We cannot politically understand the reduction in UNRWA’s services, or their complete cancellation, as merely a financial problem, because effects of this approach are purely political and affect the core of the Palestinian cause. This core is the issue of refugees and their right to return to the homes from which they were expelled by virtue of the UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948.
If the UN, in its capacity as the highest reference for UNRWA, has reduced its role in resolving international crises and now, more than ever, reflects the desires and policies of its member states – the majority of which are biased towards Israel – then this raises suspicions regarding UNRWA’s policies on the rights of Palestinian refugees. Therefore, the international community, especially the European Union and the US, must bear the responsibility once again for the negligence or plotting against the Palestinians’ right to return to the country from which they were expelled. They must also take responsibility for supporting the Israeli occupation which continues to commit all types of political and humanitarian violations against the Palestinians.
The question remains: What is the position and role of the PLO, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad regarding what is happening to the Palestinian refugees?
Does mere condemnation or denunciation free them of their responsibility?
Translated from Alkhaleejonline, 13 January 2016.
- UNRWA secures funding to rebuild 1,100 destroyed homes in Gaza.
- UNRWA: 800,000 needy Palestinian refugees in Gaza.
- UNRWA funding crisis strikes fear into Gaza’s refugees.
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