1. The inclusion of a new term, “Registered Persons”, removing the word “refugee” from about one third of a million records, is a revival of old, albeit unsuccessful, efforts by USA and UK to implement Israel’s objective of getting rid of the refugees. Other terms used in the past for the same purpose were “Other Claimants” and “Economic Refugees”.
  2. It may be recalled that para-11 of the well-known Resolution-194 (III) of 11 December 1948 had three elements:
    • Calling for the return of the refugees to their homes and lands occupied by Israel in 1948.
    • Providing relief to them, initially through UNRPR.
    • Arranging their repatriation to their homes through the agency, UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), created by the same resolution.
      According to para-20 of Resolution-302 establishing UNRWA, its mandate confirms the above and it requires UNRWA to abide by Resolution 194 and UNCCP function.
      The Explanatory Memorandum of Resolution-194 clearly explains that the refugees are entitled to return to the place, land or village that they left or were expelled from, due to the Zionist occupation of Palestine (referred to as “The 1948 conflict”). The General Assembly clearly meant the return of each refugee to “his or [her] house or lodging and not to his or [her] homeland”.1, regardless of its size or its value or location.
  3. Moreover, Resolution 194 calls for compensation for “losses and damages… by the Government or authorities responsible”. This is in accordance with Customary Law on Compensation of “making good” all losses and damages.
    Thus the fact that the refugee has lost all or part of his property or income is immaterial in defining his status. It only matters in the restitution of his property or the amount of compensation to which he is entitled.
  4.  Therefore, the inhabitants of 111 border villages, which were dissected by the Armistice Line of 1949, who sought refuge in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, Al Azazema tribe expelled at gunpoint by Sharon to Egypt, the poor who lost their livelihood by expulsion from their normal place of work or Gaza refugees who found their camp located in Egyptian Rafah, all those have properly the status of a refugee.
  5.  Israel committed ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 (which is still going). This has three elements:
    • Confiscation of Palestinians land.
    • Expulsion of the Palestinians or eliminating their legal status.
    • Erasing their history.
    The second objective was behind the efforts of the anti-Palestinian states, such as USA and UK, to eliminate the record of the refugees. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, those two states tried to eliminate the legal status of refugees by reducing their numbers and/or by planning settlement schemes (tawtin) anywhere in the world except their homes. The Arab states, supported by the majority of the world, resisted these schemes and the efforts to undermine the status of the refugees. These anti-Palestinian campaigns have failed. Now, it seems these efforts have been resumed.
  6.  A very early definition of registration at UNRWA (The Agency) was the following:
    “For working purposes, the Agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood. A large measure of flexibility in the interpretation of the above definition is accorded to chief district officers to meet the many border-line cases which inevitably arise. In some circumstances, a family may have lost part or all of its land from which its living was secured, but it may still have a house to live in. Others may have lived on one side of the boundary but worked in what is now Israel most of the year. Others, such as Bedouins, normally moved from one area of the country to another, and some escaped with part or all of their goods but cannot return to the area where they formerly resided the greater part of the time. These examples give an idea of the varying conditions that must be met in administering the relief programme”.2(Emphasis added).
  7. Four years later, in 1954, the UN General Assembly in its resolution-818 IX para-6 asked the Director (High Commissioner later) to study the case of “the inhabitants of frontier villages in Jordan; with persons of similar status in Gaza; with others in Gaza who have lost their livelihood because of the separation of the Gaza strip from Palestine; with a number of Bedouins in Egypt and Jordan whose traditional grazing grounds have been cut by newly-enforced frontiers; and with a number of refugees in Egypt who fled there direct from Palestine, who have stayed there ever since, but who have never received assistance from the United Nations”.3
    Such categories of refugees were included in UNRWA Register. In the Director’s report to the General Assembly in 1954, they were specifically included.4
  8. Generally speaking, this has remained the same practice till now, although the definition of the refugee changed slightly concerning:
    • The period of being ‘habitually resident’ in Palestine.
    • Whether the refugee is needy or not.

    There is no change regarding the magnitude or location of his loss, as long as he suffered this loss, due to “the conflict of 1948”.
    That remained so, to the extent that a primary and early description of the refugee (“who is in need”) has been dropped in UNRWA definition of the refugee according to eligibility rules of 1993, but not his status as a refugee who suffered a loss in the 1948 hostilities.

  9. The statement of the Palestinian Delegation at the first meeting of the Refugee Working Group (RWG) held in Ottawa, Canada on May 13, 1992 states, “The Palestinian refugees are all those Palestinians (and their descendants) who were expelled or forced to leave their homes between November 1947 (Partition Plan) and January 1949 (Rhodes Armistice Agreements), from the territory controlled by Israel on that latter date.

    This definition does not only apply to camp-dwellers, and certainly not only to those recognized refugees who enjoyed formal registration by UNRWA, since the latter never exercised jurisdiction over more than a segment of the total refugee population.

    It also includes the residents of “border villages” in the West Bank, who lost their agricultural lands in the war of 1948, and therefore the source of their livelihood, but remained in their villages. It includes residents of Gaza Strip refugee camps who were either relocated in the Rafah side of the Egyptian boundary, or who found themselves separated from their families and kin as result of border demarcation after the Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt. It finally includes Palestinian Bedouins who were forcibly removed from their grazing lands within the State of Israel, as well as those who were induced to abandon the West Bank and to relocate in Jordan.

    These categories share the hardships and fate of most refugees who fall in the first categories. At the core of their status is land alienation and the denial of return to their country”.5 (Emphasis added.)

  10. The explanation offered by UNRWA to declassify refugees as Registered Persons because of record digitization is the silliest reason one can think of. Already the record has many categories defining demography, health, education, children, hardship cases, even non-refugee wives. It will not be difficult to enter any data without losing the refugee status.
  11. It is very well known that not all refugees are registered with UNRWA. That is because the original registration was designed for those “in need” of food and shelter. Now the registration describes the “status” of the refugee, not merely his needs.
    Many people did not register in the early 1950’s for the following reasons:

    • They had money, education and contacts (Urban refugees).
    • They did not register out of pride (various).
    • They did not know and the record was closed when they knew (Beer Sheba).
    • They were rejected on a technicality.
  12. Our research has shown the following: 73 percent of the refugees are registered but of those, the majority, (56 percent), are rural and 17 percent are urban. Of the remaining unregistered refugees, 27 percent of the total, the majority (21 percent) are urban and only 6 percent of the refugees are unregistered rural refugees. At mid-2008, the results were: Total refugees 6,679,978, unregistered refugees 2,061,837, registered refugees 4,618,141. The total number of refugees (registered or not) was obtained by careful upgrading, according to a variable growth rate, depending on the decade and region for each of UNRWA operations, of every depopulated village in Palestine, according to 1945 “Village Statistics” of the British Mandate Government of Palestine.
  13. Recent UNRWA briefs show a peculiar discrepancy in reporting. Taking the last four years as the norm, we find the following:
    Date UNRWA Published Report Difference from previous Difference % Increase 1.2% bi-annual Discrepancy
    01-Jan-2012 4,797,723 -168,941 -3.4% 5,086,579 -288,856
    01-Jan-2011 4,966,664 146,435 3.0% 4,878,072 88,592
    30-Jun-2010 4,820,229 53,559 1.1% 4,823,870 -3,641
    01-Jan-2010 4,766,670 47,771 1.0% 4,775,526 -8,856
    30-Jun-2009 4,718,899 47,088 1.0% 4,727,873 -8,974
    31-Dec-2008 4,671,811 53,670 1.2% 4,673,559 -1,748
    30-Jun-2008 4,618,141 55,321 1.2%    
    The last two columns illustrate the anomaly in UNRWA reporting. The average annual increase of the refugees recently, according to UNRWA, was 1.2% semi-annually or approximately 2.4% pa, which is an underestimate of Palestinian rate of growth. This may indicate further cutting of refugee records.Our considered figure for the Palestinian natural growth is 2.75% on average with a large variation by region. Accordingly, using UNRWA modest rates, the above table shows that the refugees number on 1 Jan 2012 should be 5,086,579, showing a deficit of 288,00, assuming normal UNRWA reporting. This modest estimate is in fact even less than UNRWA actual figures, which show 318,000 persons declassified as refugees. It is curious that the above figure of 318,000 is the same that had been claimed by the Director of UNRWA, fifty years ago, in 1959 to be the number of “Other Claimants”.6
  14. Are we seeing a resurrection of the plans by anti-Palestinian states to eliminate the status of the refugees? If so, this is legally invalid and politically dangerous. Such undermining of refugee status will not go unchallenged and will fail no doubt, as it did before.
    The excuse of creating a new listing of RP because of digitization is beyond comprehension. The underlying motive to degrade the status of refugees is to serve anti-Palestinian political objectives, which is contrary to Resolution 194, and the customary practice. It is totally rejected
    Therefore, it is in the interest of all parties to keep the status quo and UNRWA reporting should remain the same.