From the PA’s official WAFA news agency:
RAMALLAH, June 20, 2012 (WAFA) – Number of refugees registered in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) totaled 5.1 million in 2012, according to a statistical review on the current status of the Palestinian refugees published Wednesday and prepared by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) on the eve of the International Day of Refugees.
UNRWA’s statistics this year say that there are 5,115,755 registered “persons,” but only 4,797,723 “refugees.” As a footnote states:
Recent digitisation of UNRWA’s registration records enables us to present more detailed beneficiary statistics. Other registered persons include those eligible to receive services.
Which means that UNRWA is providing services to 318,032 people that even UNRWA does not consider refugees.
But this is hardly the worst mis-characterization of the word “refugees” when applied to Palestinian Arabs who fled in 1948.
Out of those 4.8 million official UNRWA “refugees,” 1,979,580 live in Jordan, 727,471 live in the West Bank and 1,167,572 live in Gaza.
Nearly all of the Jordanians – lets say 1.8 million – are Jordanian citizens, and cannot be considered refugees by any definition.
Moreover, all of those living in Gaza and the West Bank live in what they consider Palestine, so they cannot be considered refugees by any definition.
Which means that we can cut out 3.6 million from UNRWA’s rolls, today, leaving 1.1 million left.
The remaining “refugees” live in Lebanon and Syria besides the minority in Jordan who do not have citizenship. 436,154 are registered in Lebanon and 486,946 registered in Syria.
But UNRWA itself admits that the number of “registered” refugees in Lebanon does not reflect reality. Even though it gets funding for 436,000 refugees in Lebanon, there are only about 240,000 Palestinian Arabs who are actually receiving UNRWA aid there. The other 200,000 or so are gone – many became citizens, many moved out of Lebanon to Europe.
Ever since the early days of UNRWA, the Palestinian Arabs have lied to the agency to inflate their numbers. They didn’t register deaths and they added people who were not refugees to the rolls. This was a well-known problem to UNRWA in the 1950s, but after several half-hearted attempts to perform a census, they gave up in the face of extreme opposition by the Palestinians.
In Jordan, most of the stateless Palestinian Arabs are from Gaza who left in 1967. They weren’t expelled, they weren’t threatened, they weren’t forced out: they left for the simple reason that they didn’t want to live under Israeli rule. (Most of those who left the West Bank for Jordan felt the same, the majority of those left after the war, not during. Of course, they were already Jordanian citizens.) Which means that these former Gazans they aren’t refugees either, by the official definition of the term – “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality…”
In addition, as far as I can tell, there is nothing stopping those Gazans in Jordan from moving back to Gaza. Israel cannot stop them from traveling through Egypt and crossing the Rafah border.
While I don’t know if the Syrian statistics are as skewed as the Lebanese figures, we can assume a large error in these statistics altogether; perhaps only 700,000 people who are truly deserving of UNRWA aid in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Of course, descendants of refugees are not considered refugees forever by any definition besides UNRWA’s. The UNHCR has specific cessation clauses that define how a refugee loses that status; UNRWA has none. In reality, the only people who can remotely be considered refugees are those who were born in Palestine before 1949, who live outside the territories and who do not have citizenship.
In the West Bank, 3.7% of the Arabs are over 65 years old. If that number is roughly accurate all over the Middle East, that means that there are, at most, 30,000 Palestinian Arab refugees today. (This is not counting the refugees who are of Palestinian descent who were expelled from Iraq, Kuwait and elsewhere; UNHCR counts about 94,000 of those.)
The number that UNRWA uses is inflated by over 160 times the reality. And they do it for only one reason: to keep their bloated bureaucracy alive.
It is worth reading the UNHCR Global Trends report released for World Refugee Day. While it mentions the UNRWA “refugees” in passing, it seems almost embarrassed to include them in the statistics of real refugees in the world.
UNHCR’s report make it clear what a refugee organization is supposed to do: to solve the problem, not to perpetuate it. UNHCR manages to resettle or repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons every year, an astonishing record.
And from reading the literature from UNHCR and comparing it to that of UNRWA, one fact becomes clear: the only reason there is still an internationally-recognized “refugee” problem is because UNRWA is perpetuating it. And this is not going to change – practically all of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees are Palestinian.
The definition of Palestinian refugee must be aligned with the definition of refugee used by the UN in every other case. And the UNRWA must be abolished. Only then can this problem, kept alive by a hate of Israel and a cynical use of innocent people by Arab leaders, be solved.