Photo Credit: John Gillespie via Flickr
Chris Gunness, Spokesperson, UNRWA

The Kohelet Policy Forum on Monday released a white paper (Is UNRWA’s hereditary refugee status for Palestinians unique?) clarifying many legal and historical inaccuracies about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), most notably maintaining refugee rights of people who were born where they currently are living.

According to the report, “UNRWA’s claim that their hereditary refugee status for Palestinians is not unique is simply untrue. There is no parallel and no precedent, even in protracted conflict situations, for the manner in which UNRWA transfers the ‘registered refugee’ status, automatically, through the generations, while refusing to take any actions that would end this status.”

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The Kohelet Policy Forum (KPF) is an Israeli nonprofit think tank. It was founded in January 2012 by Professor Moshe Koppel, who now serves as the Forum’s chairman. Members include Israeli academics Avraham Diskin, Avi Bell, Emmanuel Navon and Yitzhak Klein, as well as rank and file activists. The KPF’s mission is to anchor the Jewish People’s right to an independent sovereign state in law and state policy.

According to the Kohelet white paper, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides certain services on a case-by-case basis to the children of refugees, it does not make refugee status hereditary.

The UNHCR determines refugee status based on criteria from international law, in particular, the Refugee Convention from 1951, which defines a refugee as “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 and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

“This is one of many differences in UNRWA’s treatment of its population from the general practices used by UNHCR,” the white paper points out. “All these differences are designed by UNRWA to maximize the population counted as ‘Palestine Refugees’ and perpetuate their status.”

UNRWA reports 5.5 million refugees under its care, the descendants of roughly 700,000 registered Arab refugees from the war of 1948, the Kohelet white paper concludes, arguing: “These numbers include more than 2 million ‘refugees’ who hold Jordanian citizenship. They also include a larger number of ‘refugees’ who live in the West Bank and Gaza strip: They are citizens of the ‘Palestinian Authority’ or ‘State of Palestine’ and at the same time claim to be ‘refugees from Palestine.’”

“According to the rules applied by UNHCR, these people are not refugees. UNRWA’s claim that their policy is identical to UNHCR’s is a lie and shows that they are not a neutral humanitarian organization but rather a political actor aimed at perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem,” says the white paper.

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