June 14, 2002 - Issue: Vol. 148, No. 79 — Daily Edition107th Congress (2001 - 2002) - 2nd Session
REFUGEES FIRST; Congressional Record Vol. 148, No. 79
(Extensions of Remarks - June 14, 2002)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E1049-E1050] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] REFUGEES FIRST ______ HON. JANICE D. SCHAKOWSKY of illinois in the house of representatives Thursday, June 13, 2002 Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Mr. Speaker, I recently read an op-ed in the Israeli paper, Ha'aretz, entitled Refugees First written by Dr. Avi Becker, the Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress. In the article, Dr. Becker discusses the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, for Palestinian refugees. The article brings to light how these refugee camps are coming under control of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and being converted to ``military bastions'', a strict violation of U.N. policy. The Palestinian refugees of the UNRWA refugee camps are suffering and have not been offered a rehabilitation program to rebuild their communities outside these camps. The United Nations and the international community must reform their current policies on these camps and formulate a new humanitarian vision that will benefit the Palestinians within these camps and elsewhere. I strongly recommend that my colleagues read the following article. Refugees First It is revealing that only after the Arab/UN abortive attempt to send a fact-finding committee to Jenin, questions have been raised in the international media about the role of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Several articles in the American media have asked bluntly: ``What exactly is the UN doing in its refugee camps (with our money)?'' The United States today finances more than one-fourth of UNRWA's operations, about $90 million, annually. Some Arab oil countries give together less than $5 million annually, while Iraq and Libya pledge nothing. Since the current mandate of UNRWA runs through June 30, 2002, it is essential to review and reassess the role of this UN agency. UNRWA, according to its self-proclaimed mission described in its Web site, does not aim to solve the problem of the refugees. While all of the world's refugees are dealt with by the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) who is charged with working for their ultimate rehabilitation, UNRWA, which had existed for more than 50 years, was never meant to actually solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees but rather to perpetuate it. Under the auspices of UNRWA, some major principles of international law are violated. In 1998, the UN Security Council affirmed the ``unacceptability of using refugee camps and other persons in refugee camps . . . to achieve military purposes,'' a commitment which was immediately confirmed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in a 1998 report to the Security Council, in which he urged that ``[r]efugee camps . . . be kept free of any military presence or equipment, . . . and that the neutrality of the camps . . . [be] scrupulously maintained.'' It is therefore important to apply the same principles in the case of the UNRWA camps. In 1976, the Lebanese ambassador to the UN Edward Ghorra warned the international community of the fact that UNRWA camps in Lebanon had been taken over by terrorist organizations. In his letter to the then UN secretary- general, Kurt Waldheim, the ambassador said that ``the Palestinians acted as if they were a state within the State of Lebanon . . . . They transformed most, if not all, of the refugee camps into military bastions . . . in the heart of our commercial and industrial centers, and in the vicinity of large civilian conglomerations.'' (The letter was published as an official UN document.) In reality, UNRWA camps, with 17,000 employees, had come under PLO control, and under the UN flag they were functioning, for all intents and purposes, as military camps. In October of 1982, UNRWA released a most comprehensive report, which related in great detail that its educational institute at Sibleen, near Beirut, was in reality a military training base for PLO fighters, with extensive military installations and arms warehouses. The forthcoming renewal of UNRWA's mandate must be used to put pressure on the UN agency to begin a reform plan which will prepare the ground for its future integration with the UN High Commission on Refugees. Thus, in preparation for the decision on the mandate renewal, UNRWA must be asked to develop reliable and viable policies on two fronts: to enforce the ban, required under both international law and UN policy, against using their camps for military and terrorist purposes, and to draft a rehabilitation program which will build new neighborhoods for refugees outside the camps, wherever they are located. The tragedy of the Palestinians cannot be addressed by existing UN policies and practices. Any comprehensive peace plan dealing with Israeli withdrawal and new borders with a Palestinian state must include as a major component a thorough political and humanitarian solution for the Palestinian refugees. While the borders and security arrangements are obviously issues that need to be concluded, the refugees' situation must be addressed first, and a realistic practical solution must be developed which is based on dealing with the real conditions of their daily lives. The issue of the Palestinian ``right of return'' cannot be left in limbo, looming over every peace initiative, including the most recent Saudi one, which did not address the refugee issue clearly. Polls taken in Israel in recent days show that a significant majority of the Israeli public is prepared to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, the dismantling [[Page E1050]] of settlements and the making of far-reaching compromises for a sincere peace. As stated by President Bill Clinton on July 28, 2000, the refugee problem in the Middle East is two- sided, and includes the Jews from Arab lands ``who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land.'' The Jewish post-1948 refugees, whose number was about the same as that of the Palestinian refugees from the same period, were resettled and rehabilitated in their new home-- Israel. The Palestinians of the UNRWA refugee camps have not been offered any form of rehabilitation anywhere, and this is precisely the reason that the camps have become the incubators for so many suicide bombers. Thus, a peaceful resolution of the conflict continues to be stymied by the violent consequences of a decades-old policy of deliberately neglecting the Palestinian refugee problem and of deferring its resolution until some far-off future date. Today, for the sake of peace, the UN and the international community must reverse their long-standing and destructive Palestinian refugee policies and offer a dramatic and new humanitarian vision to the Palestinian refugees in the UNRWA camps and elsewhere. ____________________