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Perpetuating Poverty By: Sharon Lapkin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 13, 2005

There may be a world of difference between strapping on a suicide bomb and sniffing petrol, but Palestinian refugees and Australian Aborigines have more in common than their current tendencies toward self-destructive behaviors.

During the last two decades, Australian Aborigines have suffered from excessive government handouts and corrupt leadership. Traditional family relationships have deteriorated and the journey to self- realization in a complex world has been impeded.

Many communities are in crisis as our indigenous people lose themselves in alcohol, petrol sniffing, domestic violence and declining health. Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson speaks out regularly against welfare dependency and claims that government payments turn his people into ‘drunken parasites.’ Reliance on government agents, he claims, removes motivation for Aborigines to help themselves and improve their situation.


Across the Indian Ocean in the Palestinian refugee camps of Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, the story is not that different. The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) employs its own refugee clients to inject hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid into refugee camps that promote a self-perpetuating cycle of welfare dependency and false hope.


After World War II, the United Nations established the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist misplaced people in building new lives. Another UN agency, UNRWA was also created as a temporary agency to care for between 500,000 and 750,000 Palestinian Arabs who fled their homes in during Israel’s war of independence.


Today over four million Palestinian refugees live in 59 camps in five different areas. They represent one of the world’s largest and most intractable refugee problems.


UNRWA operates independently from the Convention on refugees and is not bound by existing statutes or external powers. It sets its own guidelines, including a very loose description that defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone who resided in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and their descendants. UNRWA does not require approval from the General Assembly to appoint its Commissioner and it is the only UN organization that hires its staff directly from the population it serves.


While UNCR has successfully relocated and resettled 50 million refugees into 25 different countries, UNRWA has not attempted to find any enduring solutions for its Palestinian clients. It has not encouraged resettlement and citizenship into any neighbouring Arab state, nor has it pressured host states to comply with their international responsibilities toward refugees.


Conditions in refugee camps are appalling. In Lebanon between 200,000 and

400,000 Palestinian refugees live in squalid ramshackle buildings in overcrowded camps. Lebanese government policy denies them access to education, they have no property or civil rights and they are rarely granted a passport.


In Syria, the Palestinian Return Centre described the conditions at Neirab as, ‘About five families live in each barrack under catastrophic conditions where basic services are not available, such as sewerage, drinking water and ventilation.’


After the Oslo agreement in 1993 the Palestinian Authority gained control of the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. However, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, little was done to improve squalid living conditions of the refugees


According to its web site, UNRWA currently employs 24,324 staff. Arlene Kushner claims this is one staff member for every 164 refugees compared to the UNHRC, where the ratio is 1: 2,803. Each Palestinian refugee receives 32% more than any refugee under the care of UNHRC.


The Palestinian community is dependent upon UNRWA for healthcare, educational facilities, environmental and family programs. The organization is almost completely operated by the clients themselves, a situation that creates and perpetuates an unhealthy interdependency.


Over 75% of current ‘Palestinian’ refugees were not born in Palestine, but in refugee camps in their host countries. And yet Jordan is the only Arab country to offer Palestinians citizenship rights. No other Mid Eastern state has made any effort to provide a home for these misplaced people.


UNRWA encourages the refugees to hope and hold out for their ‘right of return’ to Palestine. But the Arab states are 550 times larger than the small nation of Israel and hence able to absorb their fellow Arabs. Most Israelis, on the other hand, reject a massive influx of over 4 million Palestinians because they believe it would destroy the Jewish state.


Australian Aboriginal activist, Noel Pearson has said, "There’s not a lot that any of us can do about something that happened last week, let alone something that happened 200 years ago." The wisdom of his words is rudimentary to this issue.


And when Pearson said its time Aboriginal leaders should "stop depicting their people as victims," he could have just as easily been speaking about the Palestinian refugees. As successive generations are born into refugee camps and develop dependency on UNRWA, the United Nations must abolish its 55-year-old temporary agency, dispel the mythology of right of return, and authorize UNHRC and resettle these misplaced people.


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