Refugee Week

My latest Fair Observer article: an insight into the plight of victims of war as refugee week commences on June 18.

Background

The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, [and] who lost their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” including both Arabs and Jews. Combined, the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and Israel’s invasion and occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 six-day-war prompted over 1 million Palestinian refugees to flee to neighbouring states.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have since offered aid both to displaced Palestinians and their descendants. As of 2012, there are an estimated 5 million registered Palestinian refugees, many of whom struggle as second-class citizens in Arab states.

Following its liberation from a seven-month Iraqi occupation in March 1991, Kuwait expelled 450,000 Palestinian Arabs. The expulsion was in retaliation to the decision of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to align himself with Saddam Hussein, who had invaded Kuwait in August 1990. These refugees sought shelter in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and other Gulf states. The majority have not returned to Kuwait and have struggled to settle elsewhere.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq triggered widespread outbreaks of violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 4.7 million Iraqis have since been displaced or have fled to Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern states to escape continued bloodshed. The volatile security situation prevents millions of expatriates and those internally displaced from returning home.

The Rwandan Civil War of 1990-1993 reflected decades of ethnic tension between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. After government-backed militias carried out the genocide of the Tutsi population in 1994, Tutsi rebels fought back and defeated the Hutu regime. This drove around two million Hutu refugees to flee to neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Congo in what is commonly known as the Great Lakes Refugee Crisis.

The international community responded with one of the largest ever humanitarian relief efforts. However, when Hutu troops infiltrated and militarised the camps to attack the Tutsi-led Rwandan Popular Front government, many aid organisations withdrew their support.

The Rwandan government continues to push for a UN-backed programme to repatriate Rwandan refugees.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo became embroiled in the Tutsi-Hutu conflict after thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees escaped to Congo following the genocide, allied themselves with Mobutu’s government, and began attacking Congo’s Tutsi population. Rwandan-sponsored Tutsi rebels then instigated attacks against the Congolese government and the Hutu population in the east. Recent reports indicate that several thousand Congolese refugees have crossed over to Rwanda and Uganda in the past two months alone to escape sustained conflict.

Why is Refugee Week Relevant?

Refugee Week is an annual celebration of the continued cultural, academic, and artistic contributions of refugees to the United Kingdom. It was established in 1998 to counter increasing hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers in Britain. Though a national event, the integration and treatment of refugees is of international relevance.

The 2011 Libyan civil war drove approximately 750,000 thousand refugees to Chad, Egypt, Tunisia, and Mediterranean countries – often to a hostile reception. Many have since returned willingly to Libya, despite continuing violence.

The ongoing conflict in Syria, meanwhile, drives tens of thousands of civilians each month into refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. The International Committee of the Red Cross warns that 1.5 million displaced Syrians are still in desperate need of extensive humanitarian aid as thousands more stream across the border.

The commonality of the hostile reception received by refugees in host countries highlights the global need for greater understanding of the mutual benefits – cultural and economic – that integrating refugees can have for host countries.

4 thoughts on “Refugee Week

  1. We should be absolutely correct in our understanding of the “Palestinians’” murderous motives. I am afraid however that many of you, along with 99% of the population of this planet have missed the beginning of WWIII (the enemy call it Jihad) quite a few years ago. The siege of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, an event to which the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy had so miserably failed to respond, can be very well used as the day WWIII stepped out of the pages of the Koran and into the current events. I pray the United States, Canada, Australia and Israel lead the world to victory in this war. Come to think of it, there is no choice, be you a Christian, a Jew, or even, believe it or not, a Muslim.

  2. The truth should be obvious to everyone who wants to know it. Arab countries have never abandoned the dream of destroying Israel; they still cherish it today. Having time and again failed to achieve their evil goal with military means, they decided to fight Israel by proxy. For that purpose, they created a terrorist organization, cynically called it “Palestinian people” and installed it in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria. How else can you explain the refusal by Jordan and Egypt to unconditionally accept back the “West Bank” and Gaza, respectively?

    The fact is, Arabs populating Gaza, Judea, and Samaria have much less claim to nationhood than that Indian tribe that successfully emerged in Connecticut with the purpose of starting a tax-exempt casino: at least that tribe had a constructive goal that motivated them. The so called “Palestinians” have only one motivation: the destruction of Israel, and in my book that is not sufficient to consider them a “nation” — or anything else except what they really are: a terrorist organization that will one day be dismantled.

    In fact, there is only one way to achieve piece in the Middle East. Arab countries must acknowledge and accept their defeat in their war against Israel and, as the losing side should, pay Israel reparations for the more than 64 years of devastation they have visited on it. The most appropriate form of such reparations would be the removal of their terrorist organization from the land of Israel and accepting Israel’s ancient sovereignty over Gaza, Judea, and Samaria.
    That will mark the end of the Palestinian people. What are you saying again was its beginning?

  3. The Palestinian ‘refugee’ of 1948 is unique when compared to every other refugee in the world and that uniqueness is a major factor in the intractability of the Israel/Arab conflict.

    1) Only the Palestinians have a unique organisation to look after their interests: UNWRA. Everyone else has UNHCR. UNWRA is the largest Palestinian employer and that in itself is incentive to keep it going and not kill the goose who laid the golden eggs by solving the refugee problem.
    2) Every other refugee in the world is defined by having suffered persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because they are a member of a persecuted ‘social group’. Only the Palestinian refugee is defined by former place of residence. They don’t have to prove persecution and many, perhaps most of the original 1948 refugees never even saw an Israeli soldier. They fled to avoid a war that had yet to start; because their ‘leaders’ told them to or in a panic or induced by their leaders’deliberate exaggeration.
    3) No other refugee can inherit refugee status and the benefits that come with it. This ensures the problem grows and grows.
    4) Because there is no definition of ending their refugee status Palestinians can be permanently settled elsewhere; be a citizen of another country or even live on the territory that was the British Mandate of Palestine, in the Palestinian Authority or Gaza and still remain a refugee.
    5) Every refugee has rights but only the Palestinian’s rights are inalienable with a permanent committee of the United Nations with even more bureacrats with a vested interest in allowing the problem to remain unsolved.

    Do you want to end the Palestinian refugee problem? Start by ending their unique status.

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