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Why Does State Dept. Defend UNRWA’s Artificial “Refugee” Designations?

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Why Does State Dept. Defend UNRWA’s Artificial “Refugee” Designations? – Steven J. Rosen (Gatestone Institute)
(dailyalert.org, Sept. 30, 2014)

UNRWA, the UN agency that manages the Palestinian refugee issue, follows rules that contradict U.S. law, and its practices result in perpetuating and multiplying the refugee problem rather than resolving it. Yet the U.S. Department of State gives unquestioning support to UNRWA’s refugee designation rules.

For example, almost two million Palestinians who have for decades enjoyed Jordanian citizenship are routinely counted as “refugees,” in spite of the fact that, under U.S. law, a person who has citizenship in the country where he resides, and enjoys the protection of that state, cannot lawfully be eligible for refugee status.

Another two million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, by their own account, lived in the declared Palestinian state as its citizens under a Palestinian government, but are registered as “refugees” by UNRWA. By American legal standards, these Palestinians are “firmly settled” and therefore ineligible for “refugee” status.

Under U.S. laws and regulations, only an individual who was personally displaced, or is a spouse or an underage dependent of such an individual, can be eligible for refugee status or derivative refugee status. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren are specifically not entitled to inherit refugee status. But under UNRWA practices, any descendant of a male refugee, no matter how many generations and decades have passed, is automatically entitled to be counted as a “refugee.”

More than 95% of today’s “refugees” were not even alive when Israel was born in 1948 and were never personally displaced by Israel’s creation. UNRWA beneficiaries may be needy people deserving of assistance, but they are not “refugees.” Supporting UNRWA’s schools and hospitals, and its stabilizing role, does not require that the U.S. government continue to call UNRWA beneficiaries “refugees” when they are not.

The writer is Director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum.
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