It's time to reconsider the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
First, what UNRWA isn't. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees provides humanitarian relief for those who flee their homes worldwide. Even the toughest critics of the U.N. would probably agree that this is a valuable function for the international body. But the Palestinians get their own, separate refugee agency: UNRWA.
The UNHCR defines a refugee as someone 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 ... unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." Since its foundation, the UNHCR has helped to resettle some 50 million people.
UNRWA, by contrast, defines a refugee as someone "whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict" and their descendants.
When five Arab nations attacked the nascent Jewish state in 1948, refugees flowed in both directions. About a half-million Arabs fled Jewish areas, and about the same number of Jews fled Arab lands. No separate U.N. agency was created to care for Jewish refugees. They were absorbed by Israel. The previous year, after the partition of India, some 14.5 million refugees fled in both directions between India and Pakistan. Their descendants are not, obviously, considered refugees, nor are the descendants of Ugandan, Cypriot, Hungarian, Ethiopian, Sri Lankan, Congolese, Bosnian, Angolan and countless other refugees over the past 60 years.
Imagine if the American loyalists who fled to Canada after our revolution had been supported by an international agency whose charter specified that they and their descendants would remain refugees until they were able to return to an America governed from London?
Though the normal course is for refugee numbers to spike during conflict and then decline with time, because of UNRWA's unique definition, the number of Palestinian refugees has expanded from half a million to more than 5 million.
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