TEL AVIV — The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which ministers to so-called Palestinian refugees, is attempting to defend its budget after Lebanon’s census data placed the number of Palestinian “refugees” actually living in the country at about one third of the numbers reported by UNRWA.
In a statement sent to Breitbart Jerusalem, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said that his agency’s budget is based on “actual costs,” implying the annual budget does not rely on the numbers of so-called Palestinian refugees.
“UNRWA’s services are delivered to all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” he stated. “The agency’s assessment of refugees’ needs is based on actual costs.”
Haaretz reported on the census:
Around 175,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, 45 percent of them in 12 refugee camps and 55 percent in 156 population centers throughout the country, according to a census conducted by Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics in partnership with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The total is much lower than the official figure of 500,000, cited by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
I24 News added the census was “conducted by 1,000 Lebanese and Palestinian employees and was taken over the course of a year.”
In his statement, UNRWA’s Gunness said that “UNRWA looks forward to analyzing the survey results in detail and to discuss their policy implications with the Lebanese authorities, the Palestinian community, donor countries and the broader UN family.”
He stressed that the census “does not cover all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon – it covers those in the camps and gatherings.” However, the census was reported as a thorough accounting of most Palestinian “refugees” living in Lebanon.
Gunness added: “UNRWA continues to operate facing a large shortfall in its budget. UNRWA urges all donor countries to provide the funding needed in order to maintain and actually strengthen its capacity to assist and protect Palestine refugees in Lebanon.”
The U.S. is UNRWA’s single largest donor, providing about $300 million annually.
The definition of a Palestinian “refugee” and the actual numbers have long been the subject of debate.
The UN agency defines a Palestinian “refugee” in a manner that is different from all other refugees worldwide. The international body has another agency, the UNHRC, which ministers to the world’s refugees other than Palestinians. Only Palestinian “refugees” have a separate agency, UNRWA.
The UNHRC has a concrete definition of what a refugee is: “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”
In other words, the UNHRC defines a refugee as someone who was forced to flee his or her home and cannot return for fear of persecution.
UNRWA, however, defines a Palestinian “refugee” entirely differently. A Palestinian “refugee” is any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” So UNRWA counts as “refugees” any local Arab who lived in Palestine for as little as two years, knowing that scores of Arabs immigrated to the area during those years in search of employment amid talks of creating a future Jewish state.
UNRWA states that “Palestine refugees are persons who fulfill the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.” This means that even if original Palestinian “refugees” long ago immigrated to another country and became citizens of that country, they and their descendants are still considered “refugees” according to UNRWA.
The definition flies in the face of what a refugee is supposed to be. It is also in direct contrast to the Convention on Refugees, which dictates that a person who “has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality” is exempted from the status of refugee.
UNRWA’s definition of a “refugee” doesn’t mention UNHCR’s “well-founded fear of being persecuted.” Indeed, the Palestinians have no fear of being persecuted by Israel, and would not be considered a “refugee” under ordinary international criteria.
The actual number of Palestinian “refugees” is in question.
The Jewish Virtual Library notes:
Many Arabs claim that 800,000 to 1,000,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1947-49. The last census was taken in 1945. It found only 756,000 permanent Arab residents in Israel. On November 30, 1947, the date the UN voted for partition, the total was 809,100. A 1949 Government of Israel census counted 160,000 Arabs living in the country after the war. This meant no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. A report by the UN Mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower figure — 472,000.
The Library notes that at the same time that Arabs were left stranded, about the same number of Jews were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries:
The number of Jews fleeing Arab countries for Israel in the years following Israel’s independence was roughly equal to the number of Arabs leaving Palestine. Many Jews were allowed to take little more than the shirts on their backs. These refugees had no desire to be repatriated. Little is heard about them because they did not remain refugees for long. Of the 820,000 Jewish refugees, 586,000 were resettled in Israel at great expense and without any offer of compensation from the Arab governments who confiscated their possessions.
There is evidence that scores of Arabs joined the local inhabitants and became “refugees” attended to by UNRWA when the agency began operations in May 1950 to help the Arabs impacted by the 1948 war.
That year, UNRWA’s director admitted, “a large group of indigent people totaling over 100,000 … could not be called refugees, but … have lost their means of livelihood because of the war. … The Agency felt their need … even more acute than that of the refugees.”
UNRWA’s Annual Report of the Director from July 1951-June 1952 acknowledges it was difficult to separate “ordinary nomadic Bedouins and … unemployed or indigent local residents” from genuine refugees, and that “it cannot be doubted that in many cases individuals who could not qualify as being bona fide refugees are in fact on the relief rolls.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.