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August 1, 2018 9:55 am

Legislation Aims to Make US Aid to Palestinian Refugee Agency Contingent on Reform

avatar by Sean Savage / JNS.org

Palestinian employees of UNRWA in Gaza City demonstrate against the US decision in Jan 2018 to cut contributions to the agency. Photo: Reuters/Mohammed Salem.

JNS.org – New legislation introduced in Congress recently is seeking to make American aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA)—the UN refugee agency that is solely dedicated to the Palestinian refugees—contingent on reform.

According to the legislation, introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), the “UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act would return UNRWA to its original framework and address this false narrative of an inflated refugee population.”

The bill seeks to make US funding available to UNRWA to the extent that it resettles the original refugees from 1948.

“Those original refugees must meet the standards in section 101(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is how American law defines refugees. This will reduce the Palestinian refugee population from the inflated 5.3 million to an estimated 40,000,” the bill says.

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Lamborn told JNS that UNRWA’s wide definition of refugees has made a “mockery” of other refugee situations across the world.

“UNRWA’s twisted definition of refugee has made a mockery of both those who are true refugees in various conflicts around the world and those who are truly living in horrible conditions throughout the region, such as Syria,” he said.

“It is time to return UNRWA to its original framework and that is what H.R. 6451, the UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act, would do. This bill would ensure that US taxpayer dollars dedicated to refugees only contribute to UNRWA to the extent that it resettles the original refugees from 1948—not their descendants, who UNRWA also claim to be refugees.”

Unlike all other global refugee situations, which are handled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, self-described displaced Palestinians and their descendants have had their own dedicated UN agency to provide education and social services to refugees scattered throughout the Middle East—mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza.

According to UNRWA, when the agency was launched, it provided services to about 750,000 refugees. But since Palestinian refugee status is “inherited,” that number has grown about seven-fold to some 5.2 million today.

Until earlier this year, the United States had been the largest donor to UNRWA, providing more than $355 million to the agency in 2016. However, US President Donald Trump slashed contributions to the agency by approximately 80 percent to around $80 million.

The legislation was announced last week at the annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) conference, which has fully endorsed the bill as a means to help solve the Palestinian refugee situation.

“UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by keeping the Palestinians captive as eternal refugees. Those educated on the issue, who truly aim to solve these crises as opposed to enable it, should support UNRWA reform and back this bill,” said CUFI founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee told JNS.

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