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.

     

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